Cicilline Pledges to Donate Brain to CTE Research

Nearly all NFL players studied after their deaths had concussion-related brain damage

Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., played Pop Warner football in his youth. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., played Pop Warner football in his youth. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted October 16, 2017 at 9:12am

As President Donald Trump publicly decries football for going soft and over-penalizing vicious helmet-to-helmet hits, Rep. David Cicilline pledged last week to donate his brain to head trauma research.

The Rhode Island Democrat and five of his colleagues hosted a panel of Boston University researchers and a former NFL player to hear about the correlation between playing football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

The condition prompts suicidal thoughts, erratic behavior, and memory loss, among many other symptoms.

Of the 111 brains of former NFL players researchers have studied — including those of Junior Seau and Dave Duerson, who both killed themselves this decade — 110 showed signs of CTE.

Many experts believe even people who stopped playing football at an early age — Cicilline played in a Pop Warner league growing up — are at a higher risk of developing CTE than those who never played.

During the discussion, Cicilline asked what Congress could do to help researchers. One of the panelists asked him if he would donate his brain for study.

“After I’m dead,” Cicilline said. “Absolutely.”

The president made headlines last month stumping for Sen. Luther Strange’s failed campaign in Alabama when he called out NFL players for kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice.

He called any player who kneels during the national anthem a “son of a bitch” who should be yanked from the field by his team’s owner.

Lost in the ensuing uproar over the protests were Trump’s comments the same night lamenting the NFL’s and NCAA’s crackdown on violent hits.

“Today, if you hit too hard — fifteen yards!” he said, riling up the crowd of mostly Alabamans. “Throw him out of the game! They had that last week. I watched for a couple of minutes. Two guys, just really, beautiful tackle. Boom, fifteen yards!”

Trump said the penalties for hits to the head were “ruining the game.”

“They want to hit. They want to hit!” he said. “It is hurting the game.”

Cicilline struck a different note on Friday by hosting the panel on head trauma related to the hits whose return to the game Trump has pined for. And he took that a step further with the on-the-spot decision to donate his brain when he dies.

Why did it seem such an obvious choice?

“Just listening to the testimony and listening to what a serious issue this is and what the implications are for players, both young people and players who play in high school,” Cicilline told the Providence Journal Saturday.

“If I can help in some small way by contributing to the research … and make it so that parents and young people have better information about what the impact is of head trauma in contact sports, then I am happy to do it.”