For his tenacious work to elevate the issue of concussions into the national spotlight and to help make sports more safe to play, Chris Nowinski received the United States Sports Academy with a 2012 Distinguished Service Award.
The DSA was presented to Nowinski at the Sport Legacy Institute’s awards dinner Oct. 24 in Boston by United States Board of Trustees member Dr. Don C. Wukasch, who is a former heart surgeon and currently a psychoanalyst in Northhampton, Mass. The award is given annually to those individuals who have made outstanding contributions to national or international sports through instruction, research or service.
Nowinski wrote the critically acclaimed book, “Head Games: Football’s Concussion Crisis,” in 2006 and it served as the basis of the recently released documentary, “Head Games,” directed by the acclaimed Steve James.
A former All-Ivy League defensive lineman at Harvard University, Nowinski first began his investigative work and advocacy on concussions when he was forced to retire as a WWE professional wrestler in 2004 after suffering a series of concussions. He still suffers with memory loss, headaches and other symptoms from all the hits to his head.
Nowinski emphasizes that he is pro-children and is not anti-sports and adds that he will not stop providing awareness about brain trauma to athletes, parents, coaches and medical professionals until scientists find a way to diagnose and treat concussions.
“If I had a 6-year-old playing football, I would be freaked out and rightly so,” says the 34-year-old Nowinski. “You’re playing Russian roulette with their future.”
To learn more about the effects on the brain from concussions, Nowinski in 2007 co-founded the Sports Legacy Institute (SLI), a non-profit organization he serves as executive director. He also serves as a co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at the Boston University School of Medicine.
It often falls to Nowinski to ask grieving families for their loved ones brain for study by the Boston center, which has about 70 brains of athletes and military veterans in its “brain bank” to research and study degenerative brain disease known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE.
Research goals include figuring out who may be more at risk for concussions; developing better methods to diagnosis concussions and enhance return-to-play guidelines; and even finding a cure, if one exists. For now, experts are focusing on solutions such as raising public awareness and implementing changes to sports to minimize the potential for concussions.
Nowinski also serves on the National Football League Players Association Mackey/White TBI Research Committee and on the board of directors of the Brain Injury Association of America.