Ben Lovejoy considers himself lucky so far in his 10 NHL seasons.
"I have had very little brain trauma," the Devils defenseman said.
Still, Lovejoy has seen the devastating effects concussions have had on countless teammates. So, on Thursday, the 33-year-old became the first active NHL player to pledge to donate his brain upon his passing to the Boston-based Concussion Legacy Foundation in order to help research into Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.
Lovejoy spoke about his decision after the Devils practice on Thursday at Prudential Center. The team hosts a rematch with the Blue Jackets on Friday night after Tuesday night's 4-1 win at Columbus.
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Lovejoy's retired former teammate with the Penguins, Craig Adams, pledged in November to donate his brain for CTE research. Keith Primeau, in 2008, was the first former NHL player to pledge his brain to the foundation and fellow retired players Shawn McEachern, Bob Sweeney and Ted Drury have since followed suit.
"I have had incredibly high-profile superstar teammates (Sidney Crosby) struggle with concussions and I've had minor league role players struggle with concussions," Lovejoy said. "I think it's something that affects everyone in our sport."
The foundation is the recruiting arm of partnership with Boston University and the Veteran's Administration to create a brain bank. More than 2,500 former athletes and military veterans have pledged to donate their brain to the foundation since 2008 and Lovejoy is one of the more than 1,000 who have done so in 2017.
"Science," Lovejoy said when asked what spurred him to make his pledge.
"Three or four years ago, I told my wife that when I die, I wanted my brain to be donated to the VA concussion doctors," Lovejoy said. "I wanted it to be studied. I am a believer in medicine and a believer in helping the future. I thought I was good and that was it, I had pledged. This summer I read an article saying how many NFL players had pledged their brain and how many people had pledged and there were no current NHL players."
Chris Nowinski, the co-founder and CEO of Concussion Legacy Foundation said he was looking through his on-line pledge forms a couple of months ago when he spotted Lovejoy's name. Nowinski called him the next day.
"Chris tells me he thinks they will find a cure and the research they are doing is incredible," Lovejoy said. "He is very confident they will find a cure, hopefully long before I need it. But I would like to do my part. The only thing I can do right now is pledge and create awareness of what they're doing and being supportive of that."
"Ben is a bright guy," Devils coach John Hynes added. "I think he's got a vision for the future and the fact that he made that decision is not a surprise."
This season, the Devils' Marcus Johansson has lost 13 games to a concussion after going head first into the boards at Vancouver on Nov. 1.
"When guys get injured, as a coach, you're always concerned about them," Hynes said. "Certain injuries are worse than others. A guy with a concussion, with the amount of information we have now, you do worry about them. You worry about how they come out of it because, lots of times, emotionally and things like that, it's a hard thing to get through.
"Players go out there and play hard and risk their bodies," Hynes added. "So I think the more knowledge we know about it, I think the more respect you have for the players that have to go through that. You hope that for their lives, they're not going to be affected as time goes on."
In addition to pledging to donate his brain, Lovejoy said he will work to raise awareness for CTE research and support the foundation.
But he won't necessarily try to recruit others to do the same as he has.
"If people have questions and want to be involved, I will direct them," Lovejoy said. "This is a personal choice that I've made. I don't like to tell people how to handle their bodies. If people are interested, I will absolutely direct them to Chris. This is a sensitive issue and I'm sympathetic to that. This is my brain and I'm choosing to do what I want with it when I'm done."