Co-Director, Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy
Co-Founder and President, Sports Legacy Institute
Location: BUSM, 72 E. Concord Street, Robinson Complex, Suite 7380, Boston, MA 02118
Chris was a three-year letterman and two-year starter at defensive tackle for the Harvard University football team, where he graduated cum laude with a degree in sociology in 2000. A member of the 1997 Ivy League Championship team, he was named Honorable Mention All-Ivy after his junior season, and 2nd Team All-Ivy as a senior. He played four sports in high school, and captained the football and basketball teams his senior year.
Chris Nowinski is the co-founder and president of the Sports Legacy Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to solve the sports concussion crisis. He also serves as a co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE) at Boston University School of Medicine. Mr. Nowinski also serves on the National Football League Players Association Mackey/White TBI Research Committee and on the board of directors of the Brain Injury Association of America.
A former Harvard football player and WWE professional wrestler, he was forced to retire from a series of concussions in 2003. He debuted on WWE’s flagship program Monday Night RAW in 2002, when he was named “Newcomer of the Year” by RAW Magazine, and was the youngest male Hardcore Champion in WWE history.
Diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome, Chris began a quest to better understand this condition. It wasn’t until he visited his 8th doctor, the renowned neurosurgeon Robert Cantu that Chris was first exposed to medical research that told him concussions and brain trauma were misunderstood in the sports world. Chris connected that this lack of awareness among athletes, coaches, and even medical professionals cost him his career, and 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 parents, coaches, medical professionals and children about this serious public health issue.
Through his continued advocacy and investigative work, Chris has raised this issue into the national consciousness. It began in November 2006, when 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 tissue. The story ran on the front page of The New York Times in January 2007.
To continue this groundbreaking research, Chris co-founded the non-profit Sports Legacy Institute with Dr. Cantu, and partnered SLI with Boston University School of Medicine to found the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. As of 2010, the CSTE has studied the brains of over 50 athletes post-mortem, and redefined our understanding of CTE, including the discovery that CTE can lead to a disease that mimics Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Chris and his team’s research has been featured in print outlets like The New York Times, Boston Globe, Washington Post,Sports Illustrated, USA Today, Chicago Tribune, Time Magazine, and ESPN the Magazine. He has been featured 60 Minutes, ESPN, ABC Nightline, CNN, Fox, TSN, NPR, and more. His profile in May 2007 by HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel won the Emmy for Sports Journalism, a second episode aired in January of 2010, and a third in August of 2010.
The increased awareness forced a radical change how sports approaches brain trauma, from NFL, NHL, and NCAA, to high schools and youth sports. The NFL gave a $1 MM unrestricted gift to the CSTE in 2010. Chris’ work in the field of concussion research and advocacy has made him a sought-after voice for awareness. Since 2004 he has spoken over 100 times at medical conferences, school, and sports organizations around the world on the issue of concussions in sports. He is a Ph.D. candidate in Behavioral Neuroscience at Boston University School of Medicine.
He received a prestigious Eisenhower Fellow Award in 2010 along with the Patrick Brady Award from the Brain Injury Association of Illinois, and in 2008 received the CoBI Award from the Council on Brain Injury.