Mission & History
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.
The Sports Legacy Institute (SLI) is a Boston-based 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that was founded on June 14, 2007, by Christopher Nowinski and Dr. Robert Cantu in reaction to new medical research indicating that brain trauma in sports had become a public health crisis. Post-mortem analysis of the brain tissue of former contact sports athletes revealed that repeated brain injuries, from both concussive and subconcussive blows, could lead to a neurodegenerative disease known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). The absence of awareness, education, and poor concussion diagnosis and management allowed the disease to proliferate. In addition, with brain trauma becoming the signature injury of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, this research and education model could also help members of the US military.
Today, SLI is dedicated to “solving the concussion crisis” by advancing the study, treatment, and prevention of the effects of brain trauma in athletes and other at-risk groups. SLI achieves this mission through advocacy, education, policy development, and medical research. The initial vision of SLI was to formalize the groundbreaking neuropathological research, the first step toward developing a treatment and cure for CTE. That vision was achieved in September 2008 when SLI partnered with Boston University School of Medicine to form the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (BU CSTE). SLI continues to support the BU CSTE while translating its new findings into initiatives that will allow sports to be played more safely. These initiatives and education programs include the SLI Advanced Concussion Training, SLI Community Educators (SLICE), the Concussion Coalition model in Chicago and California, policy development including the SLI Concussion Checklist and Hit Count™ Initiative. SLI also continues to spread awareness through strategic partnerships and the media.
Why are we called “Sports Legacy?”
“Sports” is the first word in our name because our initial focus on the long-term effects of brain trauma sustained in athletic endeavors. In addition, since sports are a controlled environment, they are a perfect laboratory in which to study brain trauma and develop treatments for those who suffer brain trauma from any cause.
“Legacy” was chosen for two significant reasons. First, SLI’s initial efforts focused on neuropathology. The only way to diagnose Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is through the examination of brain tissue after an athlete has passed away. Our important research findings, which have changed how brain trauma is approached in sports, required courageous families to entrust their loved one’s brain tissue to us post-mortem. The word “legacy” was chosen to inform the families and future donors that the decision to donate would have a far-reaching, permanent, and positive impact. What we have learned from men like Tom McHale, Wally Hilgenberg, or John Grimsley has changed the world of sports forever, and for the better. SLI will always honor their legacy and contribution to safer sports.
Second, “legacy” was chosen to emphasize the fact that sports-related brain trauma in children leaves a permanent legacy in developing bodies. Brain trauma can lead to CTE, an irreversible disease. Therefore, in some way, every hit to the head leaves a mark, or a legacy, on a child’s future. When SLI was founded in 2007, concussion education was not mandatory in youth sports programs, and didn’t emphasize appropriate return-to-play guidelines. We need to continually ask ourselves, “What is the legacy that youth sports leaves on our children’s futures?”