Christopher Nowinski (Courtesy Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
Christopher John Nowinski (born September 24, 1978) is an author and a former professional wrestler with World Wrestling Entertainment. Nowinski is renowned for being WWE's first Harvard alumnus, as he graduated with an A.B. in sociology. He is also recognized as the youngest Hardcore Champion in WWE history. Following his wrestling career, he wrote Head Games: Football's Concussion Crisis, which examined the long-term effects of head trauma among athletes.
Professional wrestling career
Tough Enough and Independent circuit (2001)
Nowinski was one of the three finalists on WWE's first series of Tough Enough, which Maven Huffman won. After failing to win the competition, Nowinski made appearances in independent promotions before finally being hired by WWE and entering its developmental territories. Nowinski competed as Chris Harvard, capitalizing on his status as an alumnus of Harvard University. Nowinski made his first major independent appearance in London, England for the Frontier Wrestling Alliance promotion at its Lights Camera Action show on December 14, 2001. Nowinski competed in its main event teaming up with Alex Shane to defeat Drew McDonald and Flash Barker. Though this was the only show Nowinski did for the promotion, he regards it as the best promotion he has ever worked for outside of WWE.
World Wrestling Entertainment (2002-2003)
On the June 10, 2002 episode of Raw, Nowinski debuted in WWE, helping William Regal beat Bradshaw in a European Championship match. Nowinski would have a short-lived alliance with Regal, defeating Spike Dudley in his debut match the following week with Regal in his corner. Nowinski would team with Regal on the June 24 episode of Raw, defeating Bradshaw and Dudley. Nowinski would continue to feud with Bradshaw over the next few weeks, with their feud ending on the July 8 episode of Raw, where Nowinski teamed with Jackie Gayda in a losing effort against Bradshaw and Trish Stratus. Nowinski would feud with The Dudleys (Bubba Ray Dudley and Spike Dudley) through the summer.
Nowinski would enter a feud with Tommy Dreamer on the September 9 episode of Raw, where Nowinski would defeat Dreamer. A week later, Dreamer would attack Nowinski in a classroom. Their feud would end on the October 14 episode of Raw, where Nowinski was once again successful in defeating Dreamer. Over the next few weeks, Nowinski would get victories over Jeff Hardy and Booker T before starting a feud with his former Tough Enough trainer, Al Snow. After defeating Snow in two consecutive weeks, Maven would begin to help Snow against Nowinski. On the November 25 episode of Raw, Nowinski went against Maven in a match that ended in a no contest. Nowinski would team with D'Lo Brown, where they would defeat Snow and Maven on two occasions. Nowinski would then continue his feud with Maven into 2003, where Test would align himself with Maven for a few weeks, successfully defeating Nowinski and Brown on the January 13, 2003 episode of Raw.
At the Royal Rumble pay-per-view, Nowinski would participate in the Royal Rumble match itself as the number three entrant, where he was eliminated by Rey Mysterio. On the January 26 episode of Raw, Nowinski would interrupt a match between John Hennigan and Matt Cappotelli, the winners of the third season of Tough Enough, telling them to stop rubbing their victory in his face. Nowinski would then be chased through the crowd by Tommy Dreamer.
On the March 31 episode of Raw, Nowinski would begin a feud with Scott Steiner in a losing effort. The feud come to an end on the May 12 episode of Raw, where Nowinski teamed with La Résistance (Rene Dupree and Sylvan Grenier) in a losing effort against Steiner, Test and Goldust. On the May 26 episode of Raw, Nowinski would align himself with Thuggin' And Buggin' Enterprises, a African-American wrestling stable consisting of Rodney Mack, Jazz and their manager Theodore Long. At Insurrection, Nowinski would team with Mack and Long in a losing effort against The Dudley Boyz (Bubba Ray Dudley, Devon Dudley and Spike Dudley). At Bad Blood, Nowinski and Mack would defeat The Dudley Boyz (Bubba Ray and Devon). Nowinski would wrestle his final match with WWE, due to him suffering with post-concussion syndrome, on the June 23 episode of Raw, in a losing effort against Maven. After a full year of post-concussion symptoms he chose to retire from wrestling.
On the December 12, 2005 episode of Raw, Nowinski returned to the WWE, telling Vince McMahon that he should make the new General Manager of Raw a "Harvard Graduate", referring to himself.
In October 2006, Nowinski released a book, Head Games: Football's Concussion Crisis, which details his career-ending injury and discusses the dangers of concussions in football and other contact sports. The book includes stories from National Football League players as well as fellow wrestlers, with an introduction by Jesse Ventura. Later in the year, Nowinski initiated an inquiry into the suicide of Andre Waters, a 44-year old former NFL defensive back who shot himself on November 20, 2006. Waters had sustained several concussions over his career, and at Nowinski's behest, Waters' family agreed to send pieces of his brain to be tested. Bennet Omalu, a pathologist at the University of Pittsburgh announced that "the condition of Waters' brain tissue was what would be expected in an 85-year-old man, and there were characteristics of someone being in the early stages of Alzheimer's."
Nowinski played an integral role in the discovery of the fourth case of CTE in a former NFL football player, former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Justin Strzelczyk, who was killed in a fiery automobile crash in 2004 at age 36 after a 37-mile police chase at speeds up to 100 miles per hour on the wrong side of the highway. Julian Bailes, the chairman of the department of neurosurgery at West Virginia University and the Steelers' team neurosurgeon during Strzelczyk's career, insisted to Nowinski over a phone conversation that he thought Strezelcyzk's death, which was precipitated by strange behavior that some had labeled as "bipolar", was worth looking into due to its similarities to the Andre Waters case. Nowinski contacted Omalu, who discovered the brain was still available, and Nowinski called Mary Strzelczyk, Justin's mother, to ask for permission to Omalu to examine it for CTE. Omalu's positive diagnosis was confirmed by two other neuropathologists.
Nowinski also collaborated with Ted Johnson, former New England Patriots linebacker, on symptoms of concussions after Johnson (who received over half a dozen concussions in his career) retired from the NFL after much controversy. Johnson was commissioned to write the foreword in Nowinski's book but at the last minute decided to pull what he had written.
Nowinski alerted police and the coroner of Chris Benoit, asking them to do a brain exam on Benoit's brain to see if concussions had any part in his rage or depression at the time of the double-homicide of his family and his suicide. In June 2007, Nowinski co-founded the Sports Legacy Institute, an organization dedicated to furthering awareness of and research on sports-related head injuries, and increasing the safety of contact and collision sports worldwide. Nowinski's work was documented on ESPN's Outside the Lines on September 5, 2007. On the same day, Benoit's brain examination report showed extensive damage due to concussions that could have led to dementia. To further the Sports Legacy Institute's mission, the Sports Legacy Institute and Michael Benoit, Chris' father, have started the Benoit Family Fund for Brain Injury Research.
Since Nowinski's departure from WWE and the publication of his book Head Games, he has garnered a significant amount of media attention, making numerous appearances on networks such as ESPN and CNN to discuss sports-related head injuries. Nowinski continues to work as a consultant for Trinity Partners while serving as president on the board of directors for the Sports Legacy Institute (SLI). SLI was founded on June 14, 2007 in Boston, Massachusetts by Christopher Nowinski and Dr. Robert Cantu in reaction to new medical research indicating brain trauma in sports had become a public health crisis. Post-mortem analysis of the brain tissue of former contact sports athletes was revealing that repetitive brain injuries, both concussions and non-concussive blows, could lead to a neurodegenerative disease known as Chronic traumatic encephalopathy. In addition, an absence of awareness and education on concussions, specifically proper diagnosis and management, was allowing the disease to proliferate. Finally, with brain trauma becoming the signature injury of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, this research/education model could also be applied to the military.
SLI was founded to solve this concussion crisis in sports and the military through medical research, treatment, and education & prevention. The initial vision of SLI was to formalize the groundbreaking neuropathological research and develop treatment and a cure through partnering with a top-tier university medical school. That vision was achieved when SLI partnered with Boston University School of Medicine in September, 2008, to form the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. SLI would also develop ways to raise awareness of the issue and directly educate coaches, athletes and parents. As of 2009, SLI has achieved those goals through our Coaches Concussion Clinic program and raising awareness through media like the New York Times, 60 Minutes, CNN, ESPN, and many others.
The mission of the Sports Legacy Institute is to advance the study, treatment and prevention of the effects of brain trauma in athletes and other at-risk groups.
Nowinski makes public speaking appearances at schools and conferences, as well as before audiences of medical professionals. His work on concussion research has led him to be considered an expert voice in the field of concussion related research and awareness. He continues to be an outspoken voice advocating against the dangers of sports related head injuries, with numerous television and newspaper interviews. The work being done at Nowinski's foundation was featured on 60 Minutes on October 11, 2009. Nowinski appeared on Stan Lee's Superhumans as an expert on concussions. Hockey News listed Nowinski on its 2011 edition of the 100 Most Powerful people in ice hockey as one of the Top 40 under the age of 40. This recognition was attributed to his ability in getting hockey players to donate brain tissue after death.