Brandi Chastain will donate her brain to science

By Kevin Woo

I am an unapologetic sports nut. There’s nothing better than watching a great football game. Unless, of course, you’re watching a great baseball game. You never know how it’s going to end.

That having been said, I hate soccer. It’s boring to watch players run up and down the field, and nothing ever seems to happen.

I’ve watched one soccer game in my entire life. It was the 1999 World Cup Finale. The American women’s team played China, and Brandi Chastain scored the winning goal in a shootout.

After her shot, Brandi ripped off her shirt, and pumped her fists in celebration. The accomplishment of the American team, and her pure joy made the cover of Sports Illustrated. The magazine has called that cover the second most memorable in its history.

As I watched Chastain, and her teammates celebrate I wondered how excited they must have felt in victory. It’s something few of us will understand.

There are moments in sports history that will be cemented in my mind: my first major league baseball game, my first NFL playoff game, my first NBA game, and Brandi’s shootout goal.

Seventeen years later Brandi made headlines again. This week she announced that when she dies she wants her brain donated to Boston University so researchers can study it for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE.

CTE is a disease that can result in Alzheimer’s-like symptoms including memory loss, and mood swings.

It’s common for soccer players to hit the ball with their head. Research has shown that repeated blows to the head can lead to a build up in the brain of a protein called tau.

In a statement, Brandi said, “Having played soccer since I was little, I can’t even attempt to guess at how many times I’ve headed the ball. It’s scary to think about all the heading and potential concussions that were never diagnosed in my life.”

A 2013 study determined that some players head the ball up to a dozen times a game, sometimes while the ball is traveling at 50 mph or faster. Even worse, players sometimes head a ball up to 30 times in practice.

Brandi is involved with a group called, Safer Soccer, which prohibits kids under 11 from heading the ball, and limiting heading for kids who are between the ages of 11 and 13.

I wonder if Brandi knows more than she’s letting on. The cynic in me thinks that the timing of the announcement is odd.

Brandi is an American icon. I want her to continue to be an ambassador for youth sports. Her joy and exuberance is forever captured in that photo.

I hope that the cynic in me is wrong, and that Brandi will continue to live a long, and healthy life. If she does have signs of Alzheimer’s disease, I for one am doubly proud of her for leaving her brain to the researchers at Boston University where her greatness will live forever.

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