Former NFL players donate brains for concussion research

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BOSTON — Former 49ers offensive lineman Randy Cross is among 30 retired NFL players who have pledged to donate their brains to concussion research.

Pro Bowlers Keith Sims and Shawn Springs were also among the players. More names will be released later in February.

The pledges are for the Concussion Legacy Foundation, founded by Chris Nowinski, the former WWE wrestler who has been among the most outspoken critics of the way the NFL has diagnosed and treated concussions over the years.

The NFL was long reluctant to acknowledge the link between concussions and CTE, a brain disease that can only be identified in autopsies. One neuropathologist, Ann McKee, has identified CTE in the brains of 90 of the 94 former pro football players she studied after their death.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CTE symptoms do not usually present until years after the initial brain trauma and can include a decline of recent memory and executive function, mood and behavioral disturbances – especially depression, impulsivity, aggressiveness, anger, irritability, suicidal behavior and eventual progression to dementia.

But how do we fight CTE before it progresses?

Locally, schools with athletic programs – including Rock Island and Davenport school districts -have instituted baseline concussion testing programs. This program makes it easier for coaches and team members to notice if something is off with a player.

“It’s not like an ankle, where we can see that somebody’s limping, we can see that somebody’s hurt. A lot of times kids can get by with a concussion because they don’t look like anything’s wrong with them,” said Jason Viel with Rock Valley Physical Therapy in an interview with WQAD back in August.

The CDC reports that symptoms of a concussion can include:

  • Confusion
  • Short term memory loss
  • Headache, nausea or vomiting
  • Uncoordinated movement
  • Sudden changes in mood, behavior or personality

If symptoms last or worsen, the child should be taken to the emergency room, says the CDC.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.