She may have retired from soccer, but Brandi Chastain has never stopped looking for ways to contribute to sports. Recently, that’s meant collaborating with Chris Nowinski, executive director of the Concussion Legacy Foundation.
Chastain, a member of the 1999 World Cup-winning U.S. women’s national soccer team and a prolific header of the ball, has decided to donate her brain to the foundation after her death, where it can be examined for signs of trauma.
Emerging scientific research has revealed the effects that repeat head trauma may have on the brain, but it’s been focused on men’s sports such as football, where Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy — a progressive degenerative disease — has been posthumously diagnosed in dozens of former NFL players.
However, women have historically participated in contact sports less than men, so Chastain’s donation is intended to raise awareness of female concussion risks, even in technically non-contact sports such as soccer, hockey and basketball. It’s in those sports where women are more likely than male athletes to sustain a concussion.
And Chastain’s donation could provide valuable information whether or not she developed the proteins that can lead to CTE.
“Brandi Chastain’s decision to donate her brain to further research is a powerful and courageous act that will ultimately improve the future health of female athletes, military veterans and other women who experience repetitive brain trauma,” said Ann McKee, a professor of neurology and pathology at Boston University, in a statement released by the foundation. “We currently know so little about how gender influences outcome after trauma; her pledge marks an important step to expand our knowledge in this critical area.”
Research shows women and girls are more easily concussed than their male counterparts. However, scientists don’t yet understand the long-term effects these injuries have on the female brain. Only seven of the 307 brains donated to the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank — which is overseen by McKee — have been women’s, and none were found to have CTE.