Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle and NFL Players Association President Eric Winston has joined former Chicago Bears safety and 1985 Super Bowl champion Gary Fencik in pledging his brain to the Concussion Legacy Foundation for concussion and CTE research as part of the organization’s ‘My Legacy’ campaign.
My Legacy was launched to recognize individuals who have made a lasting contribution to research and awareness of concussions and CTE. Winston and Fencik encourage others to participate through research (brain donation), financial contributions to research and education programs, and raising awareness on social media using the hashtag #MyLegacy.
“We want to recognize individuals whose actions to address the scourge of concussion and CTE have made a tangible, lasting difference for the next generation,” said Concussion Legacy Foundation Executive Director Chris Nowinski. “Through My Legacy, we want to honor all of those stories, and also encourage others to make a difference and create their own legacy.”
“Ultimately, I want to be a part of the process that helps the next generation of athletes at all levels have a greater understanding of what science says about head trauma,” said Winston, who has vocally advocated for improved player safety in the NFL. “Hopefully, it will lead to better treatment and prevention.”
In 1985 Fencik played for the legendary Bears defense alongside strong safety Dave Duerson, who committed suicide in 2011 and left a note asking for his brain to be studied. Concussion Legacy Foundation collaborators at Boston University and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs diagnosed Duerson with CTE.
“As you progress into your career and toward retirement, you start to think more about making a contribution back. I would hope this will be part of my legacy and my contribution back,” Fencik said. “I think there is still a lot of awareness that needs to be done. I don’t know how many players are really aware that they can make this contribution.”
The Concussion Legacy Foundation collaborates with Boston University (BU) and the VA Boston Healthcare System on the BU-VA-CLF brain bank, where donated brains are studied. In 2015, donated brains surpassed 300, and 88 of 92 former NFL players have tested positive for CTE, which at this time can only be diagnosed after death. Last month, BU CTE Program Director Ann McKee, MD, published a groundbreaking paper in Acta Neuropathologica that for the first time confirmed as a unique disease that pathognomonic signature in the brain can be definitively diagnosed by neuropathological examination of brain tissue. A consensus panel of expert neuropathologists developed the NINDS CTE criteria, an advance that represents a milestone for CTE research and lays the foundation for future studies defining the clinical symptoms, genetic risk factors and therapeutic strategies for CTE. The National Institutes of Health, US Department of Veterans Affairs, and US Department of Defense have provided over $20 million to CTE research studies led by Boston University CTE Program investigators.