2018 NASSS Annual Conference
Sport Soundtrack: Sport, Music, & Culture

Sean Brayton

University of Lethbridge
Concussion, Brain Donations and a Political Economy of the Athlete’s Corpse

Since 2008, the Concussion Legacy Foundation has secured nearly 1,500 pledges from former athletes and military veterans to become brain donors. While such pledges are increasingly reported as both “honorable” and “commonsensical” in popular press, cadaveric donations were not always “normalized” nor were they voluntary. In Britain and the US during the 18th and 19th centuries, when public dissection was presented as a form of class discipline and a fate worse than death, the “labouring poor” struggled to reclaim the bodies of its kin from the “surgeon’s scalpel.” Contemporary politics of dissection, however, are not immediately obvious during the concussion “crisis”, in part because of a “gift economy” of organ donation that medical anthropologists suggest obfuscates the commodification of the body and its parts. Objectified and fragmented, much as it is on the sports field, the athlete and its corpse are rendered “productive” by dissection and a “mechanistic” view of the body intrinsic to a bourgeois medicine that prioritizes the interests of owners rather than workers. Our purpose in this paper, then, is to complicate recent media celebrations of athlete-donor pledges by reading such practices within and against the thorny history and political economy of dissection and donation under capitalism.