Center Matt Birk of the Baltimore Ravens, linebacker Lofa Tatupu of the Seattle Seahawks and receiver Sean Morey of the Arizona Cardinals announced they have donated their brains and spinal cord tissue to the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy so researchers can better understand the long-term effects of repeated concussions.
More than 150 former athletes, including 40 retired NFL players, already are in the program's brain donation registry.
"One of the most profound actions I can take personally is to donate my brain to help ensure the safety and welfare of active, retired, and future athletes for decades to come," Morey said.
Doctors see sports-related brain trauma as a growing health crisis due to the discovery of the neurodegenerative disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy in a number of athletes who have recently died. The condition is caused by repetitive trauma to the brain.
Sufferers may experience memory loss, emotional instability, erratic behavior, depression and impulse control problems, progressing eventually to full-blown dementia.
As part of the program, the players will be interviewed annually for the rest of their lives so researchers can examine the relationship between clinical symptoms and pathology.
Birk, Tatupu and Morey have all played in the Pro Bowl, making their pledge all the more significant, center co-director Chris Nowinski said.
"These active NFL players have admirably ignored concerns held by many athletes that by participating in this research, they could be perceived as having a concussion history that could negatively affect their career and contract negotiations," he said.
The center was created in 2008 as a collaborative venture between BU Medical School and Sports Legacy Institute.