Ann McKee

by Chris Borland
Stan Grossfeld—The Boston Globe/Getty Images

Dr. Ann McKee was traveling when I visited Boston University to have my brain examined. Walking around between appointments, I glanced in her office. A University of Wisconsin helmet gave me pause. The cardinal W of our mutual alma mater reminded me of cherished times there. The pockmarked plastic reminded me of football’s consequences.

I had dedicated my life to the game of football and realized a dream by competing in the NFL. But after just one season, I quit because I was worried about brain damage. Dr. McKee’s groundbreaking work on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was central to my decision, and she may have saved my life. At the very least, her work has likely spared me much of the suffering we see today among former NFL players.

Neuropathologists with expertise in Alzheimer’s disease don’t typically study young brains. CTE had found Dr. McKee, and she researched the degenerative brain disease with curiosity and integrity.

Her reward for great scientific breakthroughs has often been sharp criticism. Dr. McKee has even endured personal attacks. She is reviled by the old boys’ club of a multibillion-dollar industry. Punishment for doing your job well is an unparalleled professional pressure.

Yet Dr. McKee shows up to work every day. She shares her findings. And she tells the truth, however uncomfortable.

That is grace under pressure. That is the quiet courage of Dr. Ann McKee.

Borland, a former San Francisco 49ers linebacker, retired from the NFL at age 24

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