For John Forzani, it was an easy decision to make.
For science, and the possibility of preventing others from damaging their brains, the former Calgary Stampeders offensive lineman chose to donate his to researchers studying the effects of head trauma in Canadian Football League players.
It was a selfless act by the 67-year-old Calgarian, who died last week after suffering a heart attack in Palm Springs, Calif. The donation was something Forzani had talked about doing in order to assist the Canadian Sports Concussion Project and future athletes.
Dr. Charles Tator heads the project, which operates out of the Krembil Neuroscience Centre at the Toronto Western Hospital. The neurosurgeon has partnered with the Canadian Football League Alumni Association to ask former players to donate to the project. Fifteen scientists and clinicians working with Dr. Tator are looking for abnormalities and the presence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive degenerative disease.
"We examine the brain and get as many details as we can. How many concussions [the player] had. Are there signs of CTE? Is it related to repeated concussions?" Dr. Tator said, adding it will take a few weeks for the results of Forzani's brain study to be processed and made public.
Last year, the project examined six brains and found CTE in only three former players. The scientists need more data before they can make any conclusions.
"If we had about 50 brains from CFL players, we would have a good idea of this condition," Dr. Tator said. "We are very keen to examine more brains."
In a statement released Tuesday by the CFLAA, Basil Bark, a former teammate and friend of Forzani, said the two had discussed their health and what should happen when they died.
"I was experiencing some depression and memory loss and I discussed this with John," Bark said. "We looked more into what CTE is about and agreed that if this helps put the discussion further and helps anybody that is coming up in the ranks, we agreed that it is definitely worthwhile."
Bark added that he knew Forzani had suffered concussions playing on the Stampeders' offensive line from 1971-76. Bark would know best because he played centre right next to Forzani for six seasons.
"I remember one game John got hit hard and his helmet broke. We didn't have another one, so he continued to play with it. He was glassy-eyed after the game," Bark said in the news release. "And who knows what the effects were?"
Several former CFL players have donated their brains to the project, including Tony Proudfoot, Jay Roberts, Bobby Kuntz, Peter Ribbins, Bill Frank, Jeffrey Croonen, Cookie Gilchrist, Ted Toogood and Bryan Illerbrun. There have also been anonymous donors.