Friday, July 17, 2009

More with Chris Nowinski...

A topic that will be in the headlines for years to come unfortunately is concussions in sport. In an effort to help raise awareness of this very serious injury, I recently conducted an interview with Chris Nowinski, co-founder of the Sports Legacy Institute for the July edition of Main Street and the July 17th Main Street Week. With permission from Jack Burger, Editor and Publisher of Main Street, I have posted the article here.

I encourage everyone to visit Main Street online at to read an amazing community newspaper that I am proud to be part of each month. Watch for my interview with retired NHL player Keith Primeau regarding his involvement with the Sports Legacy Institute in the July 31st Main Street Week.

More with Chris Nowinski - Co-Founder of the Sports Legacy Institute

As discussed in the July Edition of Main Street, former WWE wrestler Chris Nowinski and the Sports Legacy Institute (SLI) are working for all of us, to understand the effects of repeated concussions and the debilitating injuries that can be the result of multiple head traumas.

His book, Head Games: Football's Concussion Crisis, released in 2006, brought to light the medical research already established on brain injuries. However, the NFL and the other major sports leagues were quick to dismiss the research. As the SLI investigated the Chris Benoit tragedy, revealing the presence of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and the dementia type illness affecting Benoit's brain, the new findings rang the alarm bells among the leagues and they are slowly making the effort to protect their players.

"There have been changes," said Nowinski. "The NFL has changed a lot of rules on the field to reduce concussions, as well as mandating baseline testing and better neuro-psychological care but they are not necessarily buying into the long-term effects yet. Although, we did meet for the first time (with the NFL) last month. The WWE, six months after our findings came out on Benoit, did install neuro-psych testing as well. There are changes being made but there is certainly a long way to go."

Perhaps the most difficult issue surrounding the research of the SLI is the fact that only a post mortem tissue analysis can reveal the presence of CTE. More athletes have decided to make their brain tissue available after they pass but in many cases, it is immediately after a former athlete passes away under tragic circumstances that the SLI becomes involved. It is a very emotionally charged situation but it does provide the opportunity to gain insight and answers into the deaths. In these tragic cases, Nowinski reaches out himself to the families.

“The families do appreciate the goal of the research; especially because so many of them have dealt with and seen the effects of concussions but it is never an easy sell that close to a tragedy. I don’t enjoy doing it.”

Wrestling fans may remember Nowinski’s time in the ring. He was the RAW Newcomer of the Year in 2002 and the youngest Hardcore Champion, a style of match where anything goes. He was also involved in the Smackdown Your Vote campaign, encouraging young people to take part in the voting process and have their voice heard at the ballot box. Despite the long-term health effects that linger from his days in the squared circle, he enjoyed his time in the WWE.

“I still look fondly on my career, especially with the guys that I had the chance to work with. Just to be part of that world was very enjoyable. The things I have figured out long-term health related is not good news. Some of the reactions to this research some of my former employers have had, doesn’t make me look back fondly on them as ever looking out for me as a person but wrestling itself is still a very enjoyable enterprise.”

Chris Nowinski is a remarkable example of the phrase - role model. A man searching for answers to a complex brain condition. Research conducted by the Sports Legacy Institute may someday save the lives of our sports heroes and loved ones.

In the July 31st edition of Main Street Week, a look at concussions in the NHL and my conversation with retired NHL player Keith Primeau on his involvement with the Sports Legacy Institute. Have a great sports day everyone.

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