Dr. Chris Nowinski is frequently credited with being the person most responsible for bringing the concussion and CTE crisis to the forefront of global consciousness. Over a decade of his aggressive advocacy has reshaped how we understand, research, and treat the effects of brain trauma, and how we play sports, from professionals down to children. Dr. Nowinski is the founding CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to solving the sports concussion crisis through education, advocacy, and research. Chris co-founded the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank and the BU CTE Center, where he serves as the Outreach, Recruitment, Education, and Public Policy Leader. He received his Ph.D. in Behavioral Neuroscience at Boston University School of Medicine, and is the author of the book Head Games, as well as 25 medical journal articles.
Dr. Nowinski’s passion for concussion prevention stems from his own experience with Post-Concussion Syndrome while wrestling as “Chris Harvard” in the WWE. This is where we start off in episode 93 before moving on to the Concussion Legacy Foundation's new prevention strategy called Team Up Speak Up Day.
"If these guys can wrestle through that, then I can wrestle through this."
Chris opens up about suffering 3 undiagnosed concussions before receiving a forth and final blow to the head that ultimately led to the end of his career in the WWE and a headache that lasted for years. These prolonged symptoms are commonly referred to as Post Concussion Syndrome (PCS). He recalls feeling hesitant to tell the WWE's athletic trainers about the symptoms he was experiencing, but after comparing his injury to the others in the training room, he no longer felt worthy of treatment. His decision to walk out of the training room is one that would end up sending him down a path he never could have imagined.
At some of the lowest points during his battle with PCS, Chris' head would hurt so badly that he would try to go to bed at 2:00pm, just to get some temporary relief. During this time of his life, Chris described himself as an isolated and depressed guy. It wasn't until meeting Dr. Robert Cantu (video below) that Chris was officially diagnosed with PCS. Dr. Cantu also opened Chris' eyes to how many concussions he unknowingly had throughout his football career in high school and while playing at Harvard as well as the lack of concussion education there was at the time. This interaction with Dr. Cantu was the catalyst for the creation of Chris' book/documentary "Head Games" and the establishment of the Concussion Legacy Foundation. During our conversation, Chris offers up his advice to athletes suffering from PCS. Dr. Nowinski specifically mentions the following:
Know that you are not alone.
Know that you are not crazy.
Active patients are the ones who seem to have the best outcomes.
This means not giving up on finding new treatments to get better.
People do get through this and you can too.
In addition, there are PCS resources on the Concussion Legacy Foundation's website.
“In case any man in any game gets hurt by a hit on the head so that he does not realize what he is doing, his teammate should at once insist that time be called and that a doctor come onto the field to see what is the trouble.”
-Bill Reid, 1905 Harvard Football Coach
The speech is intended to be given by a person of authority to their team instructing them to report concussion symptoms in teammates. This authority figure should be a coach and/or the team captain. Without this instruction, many players still think they are being a good teammate by covering for a teammate with a concussion. The video below is an example on how the speech is intended to be given.
I am a firm believer that this is an effective approach in trying to change the culture of toughness in sports. Speaking from personal experience, no matter what level I was playing at, I wanted my coaches to think I was the toughest on the field. Team Up Speak Up Day is the perfect spark to begin creating a culture where it's okay to say when you are hurt.
Want to know how can you participate? Check out the Links Below!
Additional topics covered in this episode:
What it was like for Chris to expose the NFL's Big Tobacco approach to concussions.
Why "the problem with football is CTE, not concussions."
Football is the only sport where it's athletes are almost guaranteed to receive 1000 hits to the head each year.
The issues that arise with the NFL being the most profitable media enterprise in the world.
Chris's transition to life after sports.
Find your new locker room.