Tuesday night, The Shipley School will welcome Head Games: Football’s Concussion Crisis author Christopher Nowinski to the school’s Yarnall Gymnasium (819 Montgomery Avenue, Bryn Mawr, Pa. 19010) for a discussion on concussions and head injuries in sports.
Nowinski is the co-director of the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy as well as co-founder and executive director of the Sports Legacy Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to solving the sports concussion crisis through education, policy, and research. His 2006 book and the subsequent documentary film by the same name is largely credited with increasing awareness about concussions in football and many other sports.
Prior to writing the book, Nowinski was an All-Ivy League performer on Harvard University’s football team and later became a World Wrestling Entertainment superstar. He was named the WWE’s Newcomer of the Year in 2002, but was forced to retire after a bout with post-concussion syndrome in 2004.
“The primary goal of my presentation is to educate parents, athletes and coaches on concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE),” says Nowinski. “I’m able to share my knowledge as well as my own experiences from football and wrestling.”
After retiring from the WWE, Nowinski came to the realization that better awareness of head injuries and brain trauma might have saved his career. He wrote Head Games in an effort to increase awareness and educate the public about this serious health issue. Many experts point to Nowinski’s work as a turning point in shaping people’s attitudes and treatment of head injuries.
In fact, it was the tragic demise of a local sports hero that pushed Nowinski’s work into the forefront of the sports world’s conscience. When former Philadelphia Eagle Andre Waters committed suicide at age 44, it was Nowinski who requested that Waters’ family send the former NFL player’s brain for testing. Upon receiving and examining the brain, Dr. Bennet Omalu of the University of Pittsburgh declared Waters’ brain to be “what you’d expect to see in a 85-year old man.” Dr. Omalu also indicated there were characteristics of someone in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.
“That was kind of the beginning of our work here at the Center,” recalls Nowinski. “So for me, Philadelphia and specifically, Philadelphia pro athletes have a lot to do with why I’m doing this work.”
Nowinski added that former Flyer Keith Primeau and ex-Eagles Kevin Turner have been highly supportive of his effort as well.
The Shipley School’s Director of Athletics, Mark Duncan, indicated that Nowinski’s work was a large factor in determining his school’s Return to Play policy following a concussion. Shipley athletes must first make a successful return to the classroom and exhibit the ability to handle all academic requirements before they can return to the practice field and ultimately competition.
“That policy makes things very explicit for those who lack the experience [in dealing with concussions],” summarizes Nowinski. “It’s absolutely the right way to do things.”
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