Chris Nowinski, co-founder and president of the Sports Legacy Institute, spoke to the Dennis and Callahan Morning Show recently about his upcoming documentary “Head Games’, but he also offered a lot of insight into the status of his most recent research and the safety of playing football at young ages.
The Sports Legacy Institute (SLI) works to research and spread awareness about the prominence of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in the brains of those with long term exposure to hard hits to the head like what you find in football. They are also looking for proactive and preventitive measures to help stem the growing numbers of those effected.
While some are arguing for the complete closure of youth football leagues, Nowinski offers an optimistic point of view. He doubts that a few outspoken parents will lead to the closing of school-run football leagues, but he believes the words of criticism will lead to more safety precautions being taken in youth football. Given his findings, these steps are sorely needed.
The SLI carry out their research by studying deceased athletes’ brains and spinal cords, specifically those athletes involved in rough contact sports. So far, 500 athletes have signed up to donate their brains once they die. There are currently 135 brains to examine. Out of all of these brains, one shows the most frightening information.
Most of those studied show signs of CTE, but most of the athletes have also been involved in football for more than 10 years. That isn’t the case of the 17 year old that had his brain donated after dying from CTE and a mismanaged concussion, and Nowinski warns we will find even younger individuals affected as their specimen banks grow.
Thankfully, Nowinski also offers good news that many schools are adding numerous more precautions to protect their students. Spreading knowledge of how to recognize and handle these types of issues has lead to a doubling of reports of sports related concussions between 2010 and 2011. Those numbers don’t mean more people are getting hurt. Players are just recognizing the seriousness of this type of injury and stepping forward more readily when they think they may have been injured.
Despite the optimistic information relating to recognition and prevention, Nowinski warns “kids shouldn’t be getting hit on the head on a regular basis before the age of fourteen.”
“Head Games” is now out in theaters and available On Demand, and is based on Nowinski’s book by the same name. It is directed by Steve James, who also directed Hoop Dreams.