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.
SLI Vision Statement
Our vision is a world without CTE, and concussion safety without compromise
The Sports Legacy Institute (SLI) is a Boston-based 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that was founded on June 14, 2007, by Chris Nowinski and Dr. Robert Cantu. Chris met Dr. Cantu, a world renowned concussion expert, in 2003 while seeking treatment for severe post-concussion syndrome due to a concussion suffered during his career as a professional wrestler with WWE. During the first office visit, Dr. Cantu changed everything Chris thought he know about concussions. As both a college and professional athlete, Chris had never been taught the signs and symptoms of a concussion, so he didn’t report them or even know he had them while playing football at Harvard. He wasn’t told the value of resting after a concussion, nor was he warned of the long-term effects. Chris decided to bring the information Dr. Cantu provided him into the public eye, and set a goal to change how concussions were understood and handled in sports.
Along the way, Chris and Dr. Cantu became focused on one specific neurodegenerative disease – Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) – which was previously known as “punch drunk” because it was thought to only exist in boxers. All available evidence indicates CTE is caused by brain trauma, and Chris and Dr. Cantu began to acquire the brains of deceased athletes for study. After proving that former NFL player Andre Waters had CTE when he committed suicide in 2006, they began building a home for future research and advocacy by founding the Sports Legacy Institute (SLI).
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. In 2008 SLI and the Boston University School of Medicine partnered, in collaboration with the VA, to form the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (BU CSTE) and found the VA-BU-SLI Brain Bank, which now includes the largest CTE tissue repository in the world. After five successful years, the BU CSTE merged into the NIH-funded Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease Center (BUADC) and was renamed the BU CTE Center, where multiple research program are focused on learning how to diagnose and treat CTE.
SLI funds and supports concussion and CTE research worldwide while translating new research findings into education programs, policies, and initiatives to allow sports to be played more safely. Education program such as the SLI Advanced Concussion Training and SLI Community Educators (SLICE) have trained tens of thousands of coaches, parents and athletes. Dr. Cantu and Chris also advise numerous sports organizations, including the National Football League, NFL Players Association, the Ivy League, NOCSAE, the International Rugby Board, and Major League Lacrosse, to create change from the top down. SLI innovations like the SLI Concussion Checklist and Hit Count® Initiative are changing the way sports are played. While SLI has had many successes since 2007, SLI will not rest until we make sports safer and we develop effective treatments for concussions and CTE.
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?”
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