Brain Blast! Rugby Team Advances Research

by The Cowl Editor on March 23, 2017


Photo courtesy of

by Sam Scanlon ’19

Sports Staff

The Providence College Men’s Rugby Team is taking a stance off of the field. One of the most popular and recognizable club sports on campus, this program is no stranger to philanthropic activity. In the past, players from the team have volunteered at events such as the Special Olympics, Turkey Drives, as well as bringing the whole team to paint a local police station. However, this time around is different.

Last month, 30 players on the men’s rugby team pledged to donate their brains posthumously for research on the long term effects of playing contact sports and how they can lead to the development of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). This is the first full team in any sport and largest single group to pledge to donate their brains. CTE is a brain disease most common in athletes that have had repeated head injuries and brain trauma. It has affected many athletes around the world, such as Junior Seau, an NFL Hall of Famer who took his own life due to the disease shortly after his 20-year-long career in the NFL.

The pledge was introduced to the team by PC rugby alumnus Michael Burke ’16. Burke currently works for a non-profit organization called The Concussion Legacy Foundation. The Foundation has a main goal of fully understanding CTE, as it conducts its research at the Boston University CTE Center, where their brains will go after they die. However, this pledge is not legally binding, so if any players no longer wish to have their brains researched, then they will not have to.

A current member of the rugby team, and one of 30 players to make the pledge, is James Lesniak ’19. “We just want to help raise awareness. Research in football has been pretty big, but rugby research is really far behind because it’s not as common, so they don’t have as many people to research. We can make a difference by providing the needed research for rugby players because it’s just as physical as football,” Lesniak noted in a conversation. Rugby research is extremely lacking, and with the growth of the sport, research needs to be done in order to benefit future players. The PC rugby team is taking matters into their own hands as they lead the charge for much needed rugby brain research.

Lesniak has played rugby throughout high school and is now in his second year playing in college, so he has been exposed to contact sports for quite some time. Still, he falls under the category of never having a “diagnosed” concussion. Players like himself will be extremely beneficial to the research because they can potentially show that they have experienced head injuries, but have just failed to report it or not had it diagnosed, which is a common issue among athletes.

Lesniak even admitted, “Well I’ve never been diagnosed with one, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I have had one before.” It will be valuable because of the variety of research tests ranging from brains that have experienced multiple severe concussions and those affects, to brains similar to Lesniak’s where perhaps they have still experienced brain trauma, but just did not know it.

The foundation has pledges from many athletes including former NFL linebacker Ted Johnson, former NHL player Shawn McEachern, and NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. All different types of athletes are being researched, and now rugby will have sufficient research thanks to the overwhelming support of players from Providence College pledging to donate their brains.