Brandi Chastain has been a soccer icon from the moment she ripped her jersey off in celebration after making the game-winning penalty kick against China during the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final. But, she hopes her latest action will be equally important to her legacy as an elite athlete and brain injury advocate.
Chastain has announced she has agreed to donate her brain to the Concussion Legacy Foundation when she dies so it can be used for traumatic brain injury (TBI) and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) research. She says she never had a clinically diagnosed concussion during career, but suspects she may have experienced some brain injuries which went undiagnosed.
“I never had an official diagnosis of a concussion in my career,” she said in an interview with USA TODAY Sports, “but as you grow older, you sometimes say, gosh, am I losing my memory or did I used to forget when I went into a room what I went in there for? Could this be the start of something?”
Speaking to the Boston Globe, Chastain said she thinks her concussion history has contributed to her experiencing depression, memory loss, and several other symptoms related to the neurodegenerative brain disease CTE.
“I would love for them to be able to dissect what happened in my brain, kind of like a tree when you cut it in half,” she said recently. “You look at the circles and you know its age and you know more about what happened from there. What is going on from 8 to 11 years old, or 11 to 14, or 15 to 20, or beyond? Then, maybe there could be more evaluation about a certain period in a young athlete’s life. Maybe we can be more aware of what happens or what not to allow to happen.”
Chastain’s decision to donate her brain for study is particularly notable because few of the brains already donated come from females. She is the 780th person to donate their brain to the Concussion Legacy Foundation, but only 20 percent of the total donations have come from women. She is also the most famous female athlete to agree to donate her brain, which she hopes will help bring more awareness to the concussions and brain health.
“As much as I’d like to think my legacy in soccer is that I played on the national team and we won World Cups and Olympic medals, the overarching legacy of the group that I played with is that we left soccer in a better place than it was when we started,” said Chastain.