It’s time to take head trauma in sport seriously, says former wrestler Chris Nowinski
15 August, 20222 min read
Professional sport is increasingly under scrutiny for its handling of head injury and concussion in its players. Recent media coverage in Australia highlights that major sporting bodies must take this issue seriously or risk the future of contact sport.
Dr Chris Nowinski, CEO of the non-profit Concussion Legacy Foundation and former college American football player, is a leading voice in a global conversation on the serious long-term consequences of repeated head knocks on a person’s health.
Research published last month in the journal, Frontiers in Neurology, of which Chris was lead author, concludes that a history of repetitive head impacts causes chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease. Sporting organisations must commit to radical changes in the game to reduce or eliminate repeated head knocks, especially in children.
Speaking to The Weekend Australian, Chris said he was worried for the younger generation of players who are being recruited into professional sports careers at an earlier age. These young players risk being exposed to repetitive head impacts over a long period of time.
He agrees with HammondCare dementia specialist Angela Raguz, who said there is an emerging pattern of younger patients with sporting backgrounds presenting with severe dementia.
“[This] is another sign of the growing toll contact sports have on the brain,” Chris said.
In Angela’s experience, former athletes with younger onset dementia have been primarily men with a history of rugby and boxing. Many have had a formal diagnosis of frontotemporal dementia and can present with behaviour such as unprovoked aggression.
“This can be challenging in a care environment where providing space and ensuring there are opportunities for people to use their energy in positive ways, are critical aspects of care,” she says.
Chris will be a plenary speaker at the International Dementia Conference: Brave New World, to be held at Sydney's Hilton Hotel on September 8 and 9. During his plenary speech, Changing the Game: Minimising Head Trauma in Sport, he will share the journey that took him from a Harvard football player turned WWE professional wrestler to a leading advocate for reducing the risk of brain trauma for players of contact sports around the world.
His address will be followed by a panel discussion featuring former AFL player and sports presenter on ABC's News Breakfast, Tony Armstrong, dementia expert from The University of Edinburgh, Professor Craig Ritchie and Director of Combat Australia, Angela Deacon, with more to be announced.