Much of Nowinski's time is spent trying to make sure young athletes don't end up like Waters or Duerson. He travels about 100 days each year speaking to communities, colleges, high schools, and even elementary schools. He tells his personal story and leads SLI's Advanced Concussion Training program to help coaches, players, and parents recognize symptoms and provide the correct treatment for concussions.
He says protecting young players is his motivation "Adults need to understand the risk of the sports we are signing up [youngsters] to play. They need to see how trauma has destroyed the lives of so many athletes. I am willing to travel around and to try to make sure it doesn't happen to the next generation. You always have to remember that these are just children who are playing a sport meant to develop them as human beings. Wins and losses truly do not matter."
Repetition is the biggest issue in brain trauma. Nowinski explains that research now says that every hit to the head counts and is potentially destructive. He cited statistics for a high school football player in Illinois, who wore a helmet with sensors and took more than 2,200 hits to the head in a single season.
He said football and soccer have the highest number of hits repetitions. "In football 75% of the hits come in practice so now there's a big bulls-eye on practice and radically changing it."
Nowinski limits his own sports playing to basketball. When he has a family he wants his children to play sports, but "we'll have to talk about contact sports. I hope to reform football, ice hockey, soccer, and lacrosse by the time I have a child old enough to play."
This article appears in the December 2011 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.