CINCINNATI — Like others in the NFL, Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle and NFL Players Association president Eric Winston sometimes wonders what his future life, not to mention his brain, will look like years after he has stopped subjecting himself to repeated on-the-field collisions.
That’s why several years ago, he made the “personal decision” to have his brain donated to the NFL’s concussion research efforts after he dies.
“It’s an ‘if I don’t need it and can do some good for somebody else, then I’m all for it’ kind of thing,” Winston said to reporters in late December. “I wouldn’t say that I was thinking about it for a long time. I thought about it and just thought, ‘This could be a good idea. This is something that could help.'”
Specifically, Winston’s brain will go to research efforts surrounding a medical condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, more commonly called CTE.
CTE is believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head. It has been found mostly in athletes who play contact sports, such as football. Multiple NFL players — including Frank Gifford and Junior Seau — have been diagnosed with CTE after their deaths. CTE was discovered by Dr. Bennet Omalu, the renowned neuropathologist who was portrayed in the movie “Concussion.”
Last week, Omalu said he was willing to “bet [his] medical license” that former running back O.J. Simpson is suffering from the disease.
Winston doesn’t believe he’s exhibiting symptoms of CTE himself, but he still believes that donating his brain to research efforts could help as the league tries to better understand head injuries for future generations of NFL players.
“There’s a host of reasons that it’s good for a lot of guys, even if you’re not showing symptoms, to donate your brain because there’s guys who think they’re healthy or are healthy, and obviously there’s guys that aren’t and we’ve been getting a lot of those,” Winston said. “Knowing what we all know now, you can’t help but think, ‘Gosh, I wonder if that’s going to be me in 20 years or 30 years.”
Winston doesn’t want to tell another player to follow his lead, but he does offer his insight when others ask him about his decision to donate his brain. Based on the messages Winston said he has received from other players since his decision was publicized, it appears others are at least thinking about donation, too.
Perhaps by the time the 32-year-old Winston’s brain goes to CTE research efforts, there will be little need for it. He wouldn’t oppose that.
“I’m still hoping to get another 50 or 60 years out of it,” Winston said, laughing. “So hopefully we have more answers by then.
“But just in case, it’s just something that I felt like it was good to do.”