Dale Earnhardt Jr., Other Athletes Plan To Donate Brains For Concussion Research

Dale Earnhardt Jr. says he plans to donate his brain for concussion research.

Earnhardt’s decision to donate his brain comes in the wake of many NFL players, soccer, and other extreme sports athletes who plan to further the cause for a safer sports arena by allowing doctors to examine their brains, especially since they are prone to concussions.

Sporting News reports that Earnhardt’s decision is a major announcement because he is NASCAR’s most popular driver and has been for the past 13 years.

NASCAR drivers are prone to hard crashes. With them come head injuries that often lead to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, the disease being linked to repeated blows to the head that can only be determined post-mortem. These injuries are similar to what football players endure on the field.

In 2002, Earnhardt continued to race despite a concussion he suffered in the Fontana race in April. He did not disclose his injury until September of that year.

In 2012, Earnhardt suffered two concussions in six weeks, one he self-diagnosed at a tire test in Kansas and another after a big crash at Talladega.

Earnhardt and other NASCAR drivers enjoy the improved safety initiative, and the racer showed no ill effects from the concussions.

Despite the improvements in safety, not all NASCAR drivers emerge from a crash unscathed. Hall of Famer Fred Lorenzen was found to have dementia and short-term memory loss in 2009.

Athletes from many walks of the athletic world are lining up to donate their brains to cancer research.

According to the Washington Post, U.S Soccer Hall of Famer Len Oliver pledged to donate his brain and spinal cord for concussion research, as well.

Oliver, 82, is the latest in a group of soccer players that have said they will donate their brains for research about the effects of repetitive head trauma that comes from playing the sport.

During his playing days, Oliver said he suffered six head injuries. At the time, he never heard the word “concussion,” but that is what the injuries probably were. The injures came as a result of head-to-head collisions with other players. He is adamant in noting that his injuries did not come from heading the ball.

Among the other soccer players who have offered to donate their brains for science are 1999 Women’s World Cup star Brandi Chastain and teammate Cindy Parlow Cone.

On Saturday, three former Oakland Raiders promised their brains to the Concussion Legacy Foundation to honor Ken Stabler, whose brain showed degenerative damage after his death in 2015.

George Atkinson, George Buehler, and Art Thoms told the San Jose Mercury News that they will donate their brains after death to the Boston-based research center studying chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Hall of Famer Ken Stabler, who led the Raiders to their first championship in Super Bowl XI, died on July 8, 2015 at age 69 of colon cancer. His brain was sent to researchers in Boston, where he was diagnosed with CTE by Dr. Ann McKee of the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank, a collaboration between the Boston Veterans Administration, Boston University, and the Concussion Legacy Foundation.

According to The New York Times, at least 100 diagnosed concussions went unreported by the NFL in an attempt to downplay the effects of head injuries on players.

The league used the information from the data between 1996 through 2001, the Times reported, knowing it didn’t include information from multiple teams. For example, zero concussions were reported by the Dallas Cowboys, including multiple documented head injuries to Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman.

Other athletes will likely be following in the footsteps of athletes deciding to donate brains for research.

[Image via Wikimedia Commons]