Lawrence Phillips’ family has opted to donate the brain of the former Nebraska and NFL running back to researchers studying the traumatic brain injury said an attorney representing the family.
Phillips was found unresponsive at Kern Valley State Prison in Delano, California. He was transported to an area hospital where he was pronounced dead in what the Kern County coroner on Friday ruled was a suicide.
Dan Chamberlain, an attorney representing the family, told USA TODAY Sports that Phillips’ mother, Juanita Phillips, has agreed to donate her son’s brain to Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Program. Researchers at BU and the Department of Veterans Affairs have identified CTE in the brain tissue of 88 of 92 former NFL they’ve examined posthumously, according to BU CTE Program spokesperson Maria Pantages Ober.
Chamberlain said Juanita Phillips initially objected but changed her mind when he explained that the findings could help explain Phillips’ death and help further understand brain trauma and the dangers of football.
“She wanted an explanation about what happened, and I told her, ‘Look, the only way you can really explain it is by examining his brain,’ ” he said. “I told her, ‘You owe it to your son, you owe it to every other NFL, college and pee wee and high school and middle school player that played football.”
Phillips’ estate could be eligible for up $5 million from the NFL players concussion settlement, according to Chamberlain, who said the money was also a factor in the decision over what to do with Phillips’ brain.
“I just want to make sure that we take care of him, his estate and his mom,’’ Chamberlain said.
Phillips, 40, was facing the possible death penalty after he was charged with the murder of his cellmate. The judge hearing the case ruled Tuesday there was “sufficient cause to believe” Phillips committed murder, according to court records.
Phillips was a star running back on the University of Nebraska and a cog in the Cornhuskers’ national championship teams in 1994 and 1995. He was a first-round pick (sixth overall) in the 1996 NFL draft.
His NFL career lasted just three seasons. In 2009, Phillips was sentenced to 31 years in prison for two separate incidents — driving his car into three teenagers and assaulting an ex-girlfriend.