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Pro wrestler-turned-concussion researcher shares story at Elon

A head injury in 2003 ended Chris Nowinski’s career with WWE and led him to co-found an institute “dedicated to solving the sports concussion crisis through education, policy, and research.”

"We are only catching the (concussions) that are so obvious that (the patients) have valid problems and are complaining about it," said Chris Nowinski, co-founder of the Sports Legacy Institute.

By Sarah Mulnick '17

Former WWE wrestling star Chris “Chris Harvard” Nowinski visited Elon University on Sept. 17 to speak about his research into concussions and their impact on the lives of athletes across the United States.

“This is a very exciting area of work that did not exist five years ago,” Nowinski said in a McKinnon Hall program co-sponsored by the student entrepreneurship group SEED and the Department of Exercise Science. “It is an amazing crossroads of cutting edge medicine, rewriting law, and ethics.”

In 2003, a major concussion ended his wrestling career. It led him to  question why more was not being done to help prevent concussions and educate the public on their dangers.

In 2006, Nowinski wrote a book about his research, “Head Games: Football’s Concussion Crisis,” which was later turned into a documentary. He also co-founded the Sports Legacy Institute. The SLI later partnered with the Boston University School of Medicine to form the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy.

Nowinski said that concussion research is vital to the future of professional contact sports such as football and soccer. The last several years have been successful in providing education and gathering research on what was previously an underdeveloped area of medicine.

The difficulty is that concussions are not like a broken leg, which can be noted immediately during play, he said. On average it takes up to 17 hours for concussions to be diagnosed, which is generally the day after the injury occurs.

“Everyone is playing blind,” said Nowinski. “We are only catching the [concussions] that are so obvious that [the patients] have valid problems and are complaining about it.”

Chris Nowkinski talked Sept. 17 about the concussion symptoms he often experienced but never treated as a football playe in high school and college, and later as a WWE wrestler.

The lack of knowledge also has an impact on the children who play contact sports. Both the parents and their children are unaware of the long-term dangers that repeated concussions can cause. Nowinski described youth concussions as the medical issue of the future.

Nowinski, however, remains optimistic. He said he hopes that his foundation, as well as the efforts of other researchers, will help to streamline the process of diagnosing concussions, as well as treating and rehabilitating concussion patients.

Professor Eric Hall in the Department of Exercise Science also spoke at the program. Hall is part of a team that created Elon BrainCARE (Concussion Assessment, Research, and Education) to educate the local public on the dangers of concussions and help high school coaches make accurate return-to-play decisions for injured athletes.

Hall worked with SEED to bring Nowinski to campus. SEED student leaders said they hope Nowinski is only the first guest in a new program to demonstrate how entrepreneurship is capable of being more versatile across disciplines than many students believe.

“We want to show that students can be interested in entrepreneurship and how businesses work without being a business major,” said Elizabeth Greenberg, a student executive with SEED and one of the event organizers along with student Archie Rufty.

To learn more about Nowinski’s research, go to his website at http://www.chrisnowinski.com/. For more information about Elon University’s BrainCARE program, visit http://www.elon.edu/e-web/academics/exercise_science/braincare.xhtml or follow @ElonBrainCARE on Twitter.


Eric Townsend,
9/22/2013 8:00 AM