This Sunday, Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk will compete on football’s biggest stage after 14 seasons in the National Football League. Birk has consistently dominated at his position, with six Pro Bowl appearances to prove it. But in the days leading up to Super Bowl 2013, the spotlight is not on what Birk plans to do on the field, but off it.
Birk announced Friday his intentions to donate his brain to Boston University’s School of Medicine, according to the StarTribune. Birk, who has sustained three concussions since high school, makes the announcement amidst rising concerns regarding player safety in the NFL and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.
CTE is a progressive neurodegenerative disease in which brain tissue scars after repeated head trauma. This degeneration manifests in symptoms such as memory loss, aggression, confusion, and depression–all signs of dementia.
Birk is trying to convince his Ravens teammates to donate their brains postmortem to BU, as well.
“I’ve talked to them about it and just try to explain it. It’s kind of a morbid thing when you think about it,” Birk said to the StarTribune. “But really if you think about it, it’s not that big of a deal. You don’t need it once you’re dead, and I think it’s important for the cause and for them to compile as much data so they can learn as much as they can about head traumas and the effect it has.”
“Terrible pun, but it’s a no-brainer.”
Former Patriot Junior Seau was found dead in his home last May with a fatal, self-inflicted gunshot to the chest. Some speculate Seau did so in order to preserve his brain so that it may be used for CTE research.
Two days after Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher’s murder-suicide, BU’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy released a study highlighting 28 new cases of chronic brain damage in deceased football players—15 of whom played in the NFL.
Earlier this week, the NFL Players Association awarded Harvard Medical School a $100 million grant to study and treat football injuries.
“I’ll let them play when I think the time is right,” said Birk to the StarTribune when asked if he would allow his sons to play football. “Once they get to high school. I have three sons, and if I feel like they’re physically able to go out there and compete and not put themselves in danger, then yeah, absolutely they can play.”
Birk graduated from Harvard in 1998 with a degree in Economics. Last year, Sporting News named Birk the sixth smartest athlete in professional sports.