In this video from The Guardian, researchers slice into the brain of former NFL player Dave Duerson.
Duerson struggled with the mental health effects of football-related brain injury, finally killing himself in February of this year. Before he died, he asked that his brain be donated to an organization known as the "NFL Brain Bank," where researchers the brains of deceased sports stars to study what happens to people when their heads are struck over and over and over again.
The Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy – a research facility so clunkily named that it's unsurprising Duerson used a semi-accurate abbreviation, "the NFL's brain bank" – sits in the pleasantly green and airy grounds of the Bedford VA medical centre in Massachusetts, about an hour's drive outside Boston. It was set up three years ago by concerned former athletes who joined forces with Boston University scientists to grapple with the long-term effects of concussions on sportsmen and women, soldiers and other people subjected to brain injuries.
In this morgue the world's largest bank of athletes' brains is being stored on dry ice. It has grown exponentially in the past couple of years to include 75 brains, mostly of American football players but also of hockey enforcers – the tough guys who do the bare-knuckle fighting – and of former soldiers caught in bomb blasts. A further 400 living athletes have promised to donate their brains upon death, including some of the biggest names in their sports. They include "Irish" Micky Ward, the boxer played by Mark Wahlberg in the film The Fighter, and American footballers Matt Birk (Baltimore Ravens), Lofa Tatupu (Seattle Seahawks) and Sean Morey (Arizona Cardinals).
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.