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March 16, 2016
If you were reading the newspaper on July 11, 1999, you probably saw the photo of Brandi Chastain celebrating her winning shootout goal in the ‘99 World Cup final. If you were reading the newspaper on March 3, 2016, you saw her again, but this time for her efforts to advance chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) research as she discussed her pledge to donate her brain to Boston University’s CTE Center. CTE is a condition that can result in Alzheimer’s-like symptoms and is believed to be a potential consequence of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), such as from repeated hits to the head which occurs often in the game of soccer.
TBI is the leading cause of death and disability in both children and young adults. Each injury is incredibly unique and varies from mild to severe. Research has expanded from a singular focus on severe TBI to greater awareness around long-term consequences and the need to prevent all forms of TBI. The biggest challenge facing doctors and scientists is that each person with a TBI has unique circumstances such as location and severity of the injury, the individual’s age and overall health, and the time between injury and treatment. Having more variety of brain tissue to study is crucial to truly understanding TBI and its effects.
Discussions around athletes and concussions primarily focus on football. While soccer may not be the contact sport that football is, there is no denying it is still a contact sport and the risk of concussion is there every time a player heads the ball. Chastain’s decision to donate her brain is not only big news for bringing attention to soccer as a contact sport, but also because it adds a level of consideration for how those “mini-shocks” to the head affect women in particular.
According to The New York Times, 307 brains have been examined at Boston University, and only seven of them were women’s. No female athletes have been found to have CTE thus far, but the sample size is so small it is hardly a fair representation of the population. Chastain’s donation speaks to the rise of the philanthropic patient, and the publicity surrounding her decision could be utilized to encourage more female athletes to donate their brains, making sample sizes as representative as possible and studies more generalizable to the public at large.
When asked why she is doing all of this, Chastain expressed that she felt it was her responsibility, but not in a burdensome way. She often hears people talk about what the ’99 team did for women’s soccer and hopes her donation could help protect and save kids, leaving what she feels is a much more substantial legacy than her 40 years in soccer.
As soccer’s popularity increases, especially with young girls inspired by the U.S. women’s national team, researchers are eager to learn more and Chastain is making an example of herself for all the right reasons. She may just be one person, but her efforts could help a lot of people in the long run. Here’s hoping that Chastain’s medical philanthropy inspires others to do the same.
For more information on TBI research, please visit the following resources: