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Chris Nowinski      

Former Harvard football player; Former WWE Wrestler; Co-Founder and President of Concussion Legacy Foundation

Chris Nowinski is the founding executive director of the Sports Legacy Institute (SLI), a non-profit organization dedicated to solving the sports concussion crisis through education, advocacy, and research. Chris also serves as the Outreach, Recruitment, Education, and Public Policy Leader at the BU CTE Center, which he co-founded, and is a Ph.D. candidate in Behavioral Neuroscience at Boston University School of Medicine. He is the author of the book Head Games, as well as 18 medical journal articles.

Chris has dedicated his life to solving the concussion crisis. An All-Ivy defensive tackle for the Harvard University football team. Chris graduated cum laude in 2000 with an A.B. in Sociology and was hired by the life sciences consulting firm Trinity Partners, LLC. While fascinated by the pharmaceutical development industry, Chris decided to take a chance and try to become a professional wrestler, enrolling in Killer Kowalski’s Institute of Professional Wrestling and taking classes at night. He quickly was signed by WWE, the premier sports entertainment organization in the world, where he debuted on Monday Night RAW in 2002 as Christopher Nowinski, a bad guy that fans still refer to as “Chris Harvard.”

Chris suffered a serious concussion in June, 2003. Due to his ignorance of concussions, he 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.

He wrote 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 (link to internal page), directed by Steve James, and the book was updated to coincide with the film’s release. Both the book and documentary were updated again in 2014, now as Head Games: the Global Concussion Crisis.

In November, 2006, Chris led the investigation that found 44-year-old former NFL star Andre Waters was suffering from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease caused by trauma, when he committed suicide. Chris obtained permission from the Waters family to study Mr. Waters’ brain. In 2007, Chris co-founded SLI with Dr. Cantu to advance that research and translate findings into smarter and safer sports.

In 2008, SLI partnered with Boston University School of Medicine CTE Center, 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 has led recruitment for the VA-BU-SLI Brain Bank, which is now the largest in the world with over 260 brains donated, and over a thousand more pledged.

Today Chris serves as an unpaid advisor to the NFL Players Association Mackey-White Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Committee, the Ivy League Multi-Sport Concussion Review Committee, and Major League Lacrosse. He also serves on the Positive Coaching Alliance National Advisory Board.

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 60 Minutes, PBS Frontline, 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 he and his work have been featured in four subsequent episodes in January 2010, August 2010, November 2012, and October 2014. Chris also provides the voiceover for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Concussion Training for Coaches video, which has been seen by millions of coaches.

In 2014 Chris and SLI received the ETHOS Award from the Santa Clara University Institute of Sports Law and Ethics (ISLE), which honors a decision, action, initiative, or program that has contributed to the ethics of sport in the United States. 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 Chris was named an Eisenhower Fellow, a program which identifies, empowers and links outstanding leaders from around the world, helping them to achieve consequential outcomes across sectors and borders. On his Fellowship he traveled through Europe to advance SLI’s mission and create research partnerships (read his blog of the experience here). He also received the Presidential Medallion from Western New England College, the school’s highest honor, and the Zach Lydstedt Angel Award from the Sarah Jane Brain Foundation. HealthLeaders Media named him to the HealthLeaders 20, recognizing “People Who Make Healthcare Better,” 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 People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) for creating the brain donation program, which will provide information that can usually only be obtained from animal studies.

Chris is a frequent speaker on leadership, overcoming adversity, and various aspects of brain trauma. Since 2004 he has spoken over 280 times at universities, corporations, conferences, high schools, and sports organizations around the world.


Head Games


"I'm still permanently damaged": Chris Nowinski's concussion story ...
As a Harvard football player and WWE pro wrestler, Chris Nowinski suffered more than his share of concussions. He co-founded the Sports Legacy Institute to  ...

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