"Head Games" film explores perils of sports concussions

Tue Sep 18, 2012 7:13pm EDT
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By Zorianna Kit

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - When a concussion forced WWE's Christopher Nowinski to retire in 2004, the professional wrestler and former Harvard football player wanted to understand his condition better and set out to raise awareness for sports head trauma.

The result was his 2006 book "Head Games: Football's Concussion Crisis" and a new career as a concussion activist.

Nowinski's book is the inspiration for the documentary "Head Games," directed by Steve James ("Hoop Dreams"), which opens in theaters Friday. The film explores the concussion crisis in American sports such as football, hockey and soccer as well as wrestling.

Nowinski, who will turn 34 on Monday, talked to Reuters about his personal struggles with numerous concussions, his work in educating others about them and his efforts to encourage the sports industry to take measures to prevent them.

Q: What is the biggest misconception about concussions?

A: "That they don't have long-term consequences and that once you feel better, you're fine. You may not be fine and need to rest and let your brain recover. Secondly, we have to face the fact that some athletes are developing a degenerative brain disease (known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE). The brain is far more fragile than we realize."

Q: The film has some big sports figures, such as former National Hockey League player Keith Primeau and former Olympian and U.S. professional soccer player Cindy Parlow Cone, revealing their concussions for the first time onscreen. Why do players hide it?

A: "A lot of us don't want to put the burden on our parents or the people around us. You don't want your mom up all night worrying about your future. But also professionally. If you try to get jobs in the future and you're out there saying 'I have bad short-term memory,' that's going to hurt you."   Continued...