NEW YORK, March 4 (UPI) -- A pair of NFL champions announced Wednesday that they will donate their brains to medical science research following their deaths, with hopes that it will lead to greater understanding of the effects of concussions.
Former wide receiver Sidney Rice and New York Giants punter Steve Weatherford announced their decisions to coincide with March's identification as Brain Injury Awareness Month, the BBC reported Wednesday.
The NFL has been the target of numerous criticisms and lawsuits in recent years over its handling of player concussions. A suit filed by 4,500 former NFL players led to a settlement reportedly worth $1 billion.
Rice won a championship ring in February 2014 as a receiver for the Seattle Seahawks. Following that season, he retired from the sport largely due to repeated concussions he sustained over his seven seasons in the NFL.
"I had my fair share of fun in the NFL," he said. "Unfortunately, I wasn't educated enough on what concussions can lead to. The brain studies by the doctors will be huge to help, maybe prevent."
Weatherford won a title with the New York Giants in February 2012.
"A lot of my teammates and a lot of close friends have dealt with concussions and the depression that comes with that," Weatherford said.
Repeated concussions can lead to any number of degenerative brain conditions, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which often causing depression, dementia and aggression. The disease afflicted former NFL great Junior Seau, who killed himself in 2012.
The NFL has been accused of paying too little attention to the issue and passively allowing the injury to remain too commonplace among its teams. PBS' investigative television series Frontline produced a documentary on the subject two years ago titled, League of Denial: The NFL's Concussion Crisis.
The NFL has taken conscious steps in addressing the occurrence of concussions among its players, but Rice and Weatherford said they believe it can do more, SKY News reported.
Rice and Weatherford said they hope their decision will lead to greater awareness and more players following suit.
"There's a lot of issues that stem from brain injuries and it's not just professional athletes," Weatherford said. "This affects everybody."