The Sports Legacy Institute: Working to Quell the Concussion Crisis

Dr. Robert Cantu talks about his collaboration with Christopher Nowinski and the Sports Legacy Institute, a not-for-profit  working to advance the study, treatment, and prevention of the effects of brain trauma in athletes and other at-risk groups.

See more clips with Dr. Robert Cantu.

[Dr. Robert Cantu] Sports Legacy Institute is really the brainchild of Chris Nowinski. Chris came to me having become very symptomatic with post-concussion syndrome following his professional wrestling career, in which he was kicked violently in the head and had a very severe concussion, but not knowing the importance of not physically continuing to exert and not taking additional trauma to the head continued to wrestle. His post-concussion symptoms got a great deal worse. Then eventually he had to stop, and he saw a number of physicians and eventually came and saw me. Unfortunately at that point I had to say, "Because of the severity of symptoms and duration that your career is over." In the part of researching the symptoms that we were describing to him in this whole area of literature— Chris is a very bright guy and was working in the biotech business sector— he came up with the idea and floated it by me, "Did I think it would be a good idea if he wrote a book on this?" I said, "For sure, and if you do put a bunch of cases of athletes with post-concussion syndrome and worse in it." He did do that, although he procured almost all the individuals that are in the book, there were a few professional athletes that we were able to mention to him that were willing to participate. After he wrote that book called Head Games: Football's Concussion Crisis, he thought about what he wanted to do with his life. Did he want to continue in the same biotech company, or did he possibly want to do something else? He decided he wanted to form a not-for-profit organization whose mission would be to try to solve the concussion crisis by better understanding concussion diagnosis, treatment, prevention. He formed, with myself, Sports Legacy Institute, and it's been one of the leading advocacy groups in this country promoting concussion awareness and concussion education and now has spearheaded a number of initiatives, the most recent of which is the Hit Count Initiative trying to reduce the amount of and number of hits to the head taken in contact sports much like there is a limit to the amount of pitches that a little league pitcher can pitch. Well what enabled SLI to have a greater impact within a year or two that I'd had in 30 years of concussion research, going around meetings talking about it, writing about it, is Chris Nowinski. Chris Nowinski's background was reality TV, was WWE wrestling, was being in the media and knowing how to interface with the media, and what he inherently understood was that if you really want to get this message out, Cantu going around to medical meetings and writing papers in medical journals isn't the way it's going to happen. It's going to be get it written in newspapers, get it on TV. So he cultivated his contacts, and in the print media no one has done a more outstanding job than Pulitzer Prize-nominated Alan Schwarz through his many articles on concussion and helmets and other aspects of head trauma in athletics. He's used his contacts with HBO and ESPN and other television modalities to get the message out on TV as well. So it's using the media that has made the difference. That's what's put it out there.
Posted on BrainLine August 30, 2013.

Produced by Noel Gunther and Erica Queen, BrainLine.