(Washington, D.C.) – 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 yesterday 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.”
“By pledging my brain, I’m hoping to encourage others to do so,” Hogshead-Makar said. “This is about the youth sports movement, which has long term benefits on society, on physical health, mental health."
“We are working to create a culture of brain donation in America by asking living athletes and Veterans to donate their brains to the Brain Bank to be studied by VA and Boston University researchers,” said Concussion Legacy Foundation co-founder Chris Nowinski. “It’s a perfect partnership because the most common victims of CTE are athletes and Veterans, and by researching both as a part of one program, the sports community and Veteran community can work together to solve this problem. We all need to work together to solve the concussion crisis.”
The VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank is directed by Dr. Ann McKee, director of neuropathology for the Boston VA and professor of neurology and pathology at Boston University School of Medicine. It is now the largest sports mTBI and CTE repository in the world with over 325 brains donated, over a thousand more pledged, and nearly 200 cases of CTE identified.
Those interested in joining Secretary McDonald, Hogshead-Makar and Villapiano and pledging their brain to research can do so at https://concussionfoundation.org/get-involved/research-registry.
About the Concussion Legacy Foundation:
The Concussion Legacy Foundation (formerly the Sports Legacy Institute) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization located in Boston. It was founded in 2007 by Robert Cantu, MD, and Christopher Nowinski to solve the concussion crisis by advancing the study, treatment and prevention of the effects of brain trauma in athletes and other at-risk groups. For more information, please visit ConcussionFoundation.org.
About Phil Villapiano:
Phil Villapiano is a former NFL linebacker best remembered as a star of the Oakland Raiders Super Bowl XI winning team. A 13 year pro, he was AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1971 and played in 4 Pro Bowls. Phil has been in the International Logistics business for more than thirty years. Currently, providing logistics solutions for domestic and international companies as Vice President of Sales for Odyssey Logistics & Technology, a global logistics leader, based in Danbury, Connecticut. Phil has been recognized for his philanthropy for causes including ALS and Hurricane Sandy.
About Nancy Hogshead-Makar
Nancy Hogshead-Makar is the founder of Champion Women, an advocacy organization for girls and women in sports. Previously, she was the senior advocacy director at Women’s Sports Foundation, practiced law at Holland & Knight, was a law professor at Florida Coastal School of Law, and was an Olympic medalist in swimming. Hogshead-Makar has often testified before Congress and is co-author of Equal Play, Title IX and Social Change. Her honors include the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women Owned Business Association, Title IX Advocate Award from the Alliance of Women Coaches, NOW’s Courage Award, and induction into eleven halls of fame. Sports Illustrated called her one of the most influential people in Title IX history. Nancy has three uncles who served in WWII, one who is still living, and a nephew who is a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army.