Do you suppose it’s merely coincidence, or is Paul Allen trying to cancel out the moral smirch of causing football-related brain injuries by funding research into traumatic brain injury? In November, Microsoft cofounder Allen announced a $2.37 million dollar gift to be shared jointly by Washington State University and Allen’s own Allen Institute for Brain Science. The work is particularly timely, as awareness of these types of traumatic brain injuries, or TBIs, has grown in recent years. And in many ways, Allen is the perfect man to support such work: He’s flush with funds, has a little family history with related neurodegenerative disorders (his mom has Alzheimer’s), and his state of the art institute is quite likely second to none nationally when it comes to understanding how brain tissues function.
Still though, this gift differs in some important ways from his past support of the Allen Institute for Brain Science. For starters, this is the first time Allen has supported any sort of collaborative brain-related effort. In the past—and the Institute has been around for ten years, so there’s a definite precedent—all the brain science Allen funded was by the Institute, for the Institute. Now he’s opening the door and letting in a partner organization.
Another key difference—this gift seems destined to make a statement about the importance of TBIs in the world of sports—especially football. When a prominent team owner makes a gift to support brain injury research, you might look at that and say, “Well, I guess it’s official, football causes brain damage…” That might give the football/brain injury link less than ideal publicity, but on the other hand, the NFL, and Allen in particular, can’t claim it’s doing nothing.