Ben Lovejoy: Donating brain 'my way of giving back to hockey'

From ESPN - December 7, 2017

On Thursday, New Jersey Devils defenseman Ben Lovejoy became the first active NHL player to announce he's donating his brain to concussion research, making the announcement with the Concussion Legacy Foundation in an effort to find treatment for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

"If announcing this gains awareness, I am very excited," Lovejoy told ESPN on Thursday. "The reaction has been very positive. I did not think this was going to be a big deal, and I have gotten so many congratulatory texts."

Concussion Legacy Foundation is the outreach arm of the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank, a partnership with Boston University and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and is led by Dr. Ann McKee. More than 460 brains have been donated, resulting in 285 diagnoses of CTE, a degenerative disease linked to head trauma that has been found posthumously in the brains of countless athletes.

"We are honored by Ben Lovejoy's brain pledge," said Chris Nowinski, Ph.D., co-founder and CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, in a statement. "Brain donation is critical to developing methods to prevent and treat neurologic disorders. Professional athletes can create better outcomes for themselves, their teammates, and their children by pledging their brain or raising funds, and we hope Mr. Lovejoy's pledge encourages others to join him in support of the Concussion Legacy Foundation."

Lovejoy has played 432 games in the NHL with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Anaheim Ducks and Devils. He won the Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 2016. We spoke with Lovejoy about what motivated him to posthumously donate his brain to CTE research; the reaction of his family to the decision; and the future of contact sports in a world more aware of concussions.

ESPN: What motivated you to do this; why now?

Lovejoy: Science. This is my way of giving back to hockey, because hockey has been just awesome to me. I have spent 30 of my 33 years on earth living and dying hockey. Everything I do in my life has revolved around hockey, and hockey has been so good to me. It's taken me all over the world, gotten me into high school and colleges, and given me an awesome job for the last 10-and-a-half years.

I think the game has gotten safer and safer, even in those 10-and-a-half years. This is my way of giving back and hoping that the doctors at BU can someday study me, and help cure CTE and make the game safer.

I hope I live until I am 90 years old and the people at BU have cured CTE long before I die and they get my brain. I have been told, and from the research I have done, they think there will be a cure, that they think they will be able to figure out a way.

So this is me, doing my part. I am not a scientist. I have not been in a lab since college. But these guys are at the forefront of the research, and this is something I have been passionate about for a long time.

ESPN: How long?

Lovejoy: I told my wife three or four years ago that if something were to happen to me, I wanted my brain donated to the Brain Bank. I thought that was good. I thought that when I was done, she could give them a call and donate my brain.

I read an article this past summer that said that no current NHL players had pledged their brains. It's something I wanted to do for a long time, and found out how to do it, and this has been planned for a while.

ESPN: What's the reaction from your family?

Lovejoy: I told my wife, I told my parents ... I guess I just forgot to tell my little brothers I was doing this. And I got a text from both of them, asking how they can donate their brains. They have already filled out the online paperwork. They are not NHL players, but maybe someday studying their brains will help, too.

ESPN: Do you think being the first will encourage other players to do this?


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