“It is Nowinski's figure which looms behind the doctors and the headlines and the debate roiling over sports' newfound commitment to minimizing head trauma.”
-Sports Illustrated, 2010
Chris Nowinski is co-founder and executive director of the Sports Legacy Institute (SLI), a non-profit organization dedicated to solving the sports concussion crisis through education, policy, and research. He also serves as co-director of the BU CTE Center. Nowinski also serves on the NFL Players Association Mackey-White TBI Research Committee, the Ivy League Concussion Committee, Positive Coaching Alliance National Advisory Board, and as a consultant to Major League Lacrosse. He is a Ph.D. candidate in Behavioral Neuroscience at Boston University School of Medicine.
Chris’ interest in brain trauma stems from personal experience. An All-Ivy defensive tackle for the Harvard University football team, after graduation, he began working for the life sciences consulting firm Trinity Partners, LLC. While there he decided to explore his passion for professional wrestling, and enrolled in wrestling school at night. Eighteen months later, in 2002, he debuted on WWE’s flagship program Monday Night RAW.
Chris suffered a serious concussion in June, 2003, but due to a lack of understanding, was not honest about his symptoms and continued to wrestle and work out for five weeks while symptomatic. He developed post-concussion syndrome and was forced to retire. It wasn’t until he visited the renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Robert Cantu that Chris was first exposed to medical research that revealed to him that concussions and brain trauma were misunderstood in the sports world. Chris realized that this lack of awareness among athletes, coaches, and even medical professionals not only cost him his career, abut also threatened the health and well-being of athletes of all ages.
This led him to write the critically acclaimed book Head Games: Football’s Concussion Crisis, published in 2006, in an effort to educate the world about this serious public health issue. In 2012, the book was adapted for the documentary film of the same name, Head Games, directed by Steve James, and the book was updated to coincide with the film’s release.
In 2007, Chris co-founded SLI with Dr. Cantu to solve the sports concussion crisis through education, awareness, policy, and research. In 2008, SLI partnered with Boston University School of Medicine to found the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, the first research center in the world dedicated to the study of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease associated with brain trauma.
Chris and the team’s work has been featured in print outlets such as the New York Times, Boston Globe, Washington Post, Sports Illustrated, USA Today, Chicago Tribune, Time Magazine, ESPN the Magazine, and The New Yorker, and has been featured on television programs including ESPN Outside the Lines, CNN, Fox News, TSN, ABC Nightline, and makes frequent radio appearances. His profile in May 2007 by HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel won the Emmy for Sports Journalism, and his work has been featured in three additional episodes in January 2010, August 2010, and November 2012.
In 2012 Chris received the United States Sports Academy Distinguished Service Award, and the Sport at its Best Award as a Player Safety Advocate from Ralph Nader’s League of Fans. In 2011 he received the Presidential Medallion from Western New England College, the school’s highest honor, and was named an Eisenhower Fellow, which allowed him to spend five weeks traveling through Europe to advance SLI’s mission. HealthLeaders Media named him to the HealthLeaders 20, recognizing “People Who Make Healthcare Better,” the Sarah Jane Brain Foundation bestowed the Zach Lydstedt Angel Award, and Hockey News named him to the 40 Under 40 most powerful people in hockey. In 2010, Sports Illustrated named him a finalist for Sportsman of the Year, and he received the Patrick Brady Award from the Brain Injury Association of Illinois. In 2008 he received the CoBI Award from the Council on Brain Injury and received a Compassionate Action Award from PETA from pledging to donate his brain to brain trauma research.
Chris is a frequent speaker on various aspects of brain trauma, and since 2004 he has spoken over 200 times at universities, conferences, high schools, and sports organizations around the world.