Head trauma in sports has become a major storyline over the last few years. Frontline had a two hour documentary on head trauma based on the Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru book "The League of Denial", the Will Smith Bio pic Concussion on Dr. Bennett Omalu who discovered Cronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, and another documentary "Head games", that was based on the book of the same name by former WWE wrestler "Chris Harvard" Nowinski.
Head Games has some huge Chicago connections. The Director, Steve James also directed Hoop Dreams. The musical director is Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins.
One of the producers of "Head Games" is Dr. Steve Devick. Devick is the co-creator of the King-Devick concussion and head trauma test. Devick will be honored Thursday night by the Concussion Legacy Foundation on Thursday night at the University Club in the Loop.
There will also be a panel on the 1985 Bears Hosted by CBS 2's Rob Johnson and former Bear Gary Fencik and "friends". They will discuss the 1985 season and how concussions and CTE have affected them. Proceeds of the discussion will benefit the Concussion Legacy Foundation.
Nowinski is the co-founder of the CLF with Dr. Robert Cantu. Nowinski has become one of the Patriarchs of head trauma research. He was a part of "League of Denial".
He was quoted in the documentary as saying: He knew something was wrong with him when "he began to have violent nightmares and migraine headaches." couldn't or wouldn't "What motivated me every day was the fact that my head was killing me. And I knew that I felt awful. And I knew that I wasn't the only person, but I was a person in a position to make a difference.
Nowinski said, "(I know) There's something really wrong with me." And the headache didn't go away for five years. Nowinski became an advocate for people with long term brain trauma and injuries. He felt compelled to speak out for those that couldn't or wouldn't "
Chris Nowinski "What motivated me every day was the fact that my head was killing me. And I knew that I felt awful. And I knew that I wasn't the only person, but I was a person in a position to make a difference."
Nowinski went to work for Boston University working with Dr. Ann McKee. His job was to call the families of former football players that died and ask if the families would be willing to donate their brains.
While Nowinski, Dr. McKee and Dr. Cantu advocate and conduct their research, there is research and advocating going no in Chicago too. Dr. Devick is based in Chicago. In conjunction with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. MN, Dr. Devick helped develop a test for traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
The likelihood is that most NFL players have CTE. Chicago has a large contingent of NFL Alums. Some played for the Bears, some grew up here and came home and others decided to stay in Chicago.
Former Bear Dave Duerson was featured in Concussion. He wasn't portrayed in a very positive manner. It's implied that Duerson was unresponsive to former Eagles safety Andre Waters who told him he had a headache. In the movie, Duerson's response is to tell Waters to go see a doctor. In the next scene Waters commits suicide.
After his retirement from the NFL, Duerson served on the NFL players association retirement board. Duerson committed suicide at age 50 in 2011. He shot himself in the chest to preserve his brain. His family filed a wrongful death against the NFL that would become the class action lawsuit. The league settled the class action suit of out court for $1 Billion. His family was not happy with the result of the settlement and are going to appeal according to their attorney Thomas Demetrio.
CTE is not the only TBI affecting NFL players. The Feeney Law firm in Quincy. MA is handling the class action case. TBI's can also lead to Alzheimer's, ALS and Parkinson's disease. One of the misconceptions about CTE is that is is caused by repeated concussion. The C in CTE is Cronic, The thousands of repetitive hits to the brain with or without concussions are what cause the most damage and lead to the above ailments.
One of the leading advocates in Chicago is Liz Nicholson. Liz's husband Gerry Sullivan played eight seasons for the Cleveland Browns as a part-time starter at all three offensive line positions. Sullivan spoke to ESPN's Outside the Lines about CTE patient Zero (the first patient to be diagnosed with any illness) and his experiences.
Nicholson said to me
"the longer they (football players) played and earlier (they) started - the worse the risk. So Gerry unfortunately started in Pop Warner. Was a Pop All American, then OPRF (Oak Park- River Forest), then Illini, then NFL, nine vested years and 2 with the USFL."
The information for the 2016 Chicago Honors to benefit the Concussion Legacy Foundation is below.
5:30 to 6:00 p.m. | Sponsor Reception featuring special guests
6:00 to 8:00 p.m. | Cocktail Reception with passed and heavy hors d’oeuvres
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