Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) Robert A. McDonald, three-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer Nancy Hogshead-Makar, and former Oakland Raiders linebacker and Super Bowl champion Phil Villapiano pledged earlier this week to donate their brains to the Concussion Legacy Foundation, which collaborates with the VA and Boston University as part of the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank.
The announcements of Villapiano and Hogshead-Makar were planned as part of the VA-hosted Brain Trust: Pathways to InnoVAtion, a public-private partner event which brought together many of the most influential voices in the field of brain health to identify and advance solutions for mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Secretary McDonald’s announcement was not planned for the event.
“As I listened to the very powerful personal stories from Veterans and the challenges the world’s top researchers are working to overcome in TBI, I made a decision: I decided to join the hundreds of Veterans and athletes who have already donated their brain to the VA Brain Bank so that I may, in a small way, contribute to the vital research happening to better understand brain trauma,” said Secretary McDonald. “This is a very, very serious issue, one that affects Veterans and non-Veterans alike. I’m proud to do my part because I know that the researchers at VA are committed to improving lives and they have my full support.”
The pledges were made as part of the Foundation’s My Legacy campaign, which encourages athletes to leave their legacy by helping solve the concussion crisis through brain donation or other means. Villapiano pledged in honor of his former teammate, Hall of Famer Ken Stabler, who died in 2015 and was diagnosed with CTE at the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank. He joins former Oakland Raiders teammates George Atkinson, Art Thoms, and George Buehler, who pledged last month.
“I’d go back and smash my head into anybody, any time. I loved that kind of stuff. Little did I know what has happening inside our heads,” Villapiano said. “Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a big problem and all of my friends are scared to death.”