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Hillenmeyer part of concussion panel

6/14/2010
Hunter Hillenmeyer recently pledged to donate his brain when he passes away to the Sports Legacy Institute. Rich Gabrielson/Icon SMI

Chicago Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer remains at the forefront of active NFL players raising awareness about the dangers of concussions in athletes of all ages.

Hillenmeyer will be present during a free educational session about concussion awareness hosted by the Sports Legacy Institute at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights.

After suffering at least one documented concussion during his career with the Bears, Hillenmeyer recently pledged to donate his brain when he passes away to Sports Legacy Institute President Chris Nowinski.

“It’s a very fun conversation, let me tell you. I’m a riot at cocktail parties,” Nowinski joked last week during an appearance on ESPN 1000. “By the end of the night, I will ask you to donate your brain to science.”

Nowinski has convinced 350 athletes to donate their brains upon death, a remarkable accomplishment that has been chronicled on such programs as HBO’s "Real Sports," ESPN's "Outside the Lines" and "60 Minutes."

“I had a nice career playing football at Harvard after graduating from John Hersey High School and with World Wrestling Entertainment,” said Nowinski, who wrestled as 'Chris Harvard.' “ I was a professional wrestler as most Harvard graduates do, and things were going great until I got kicked in the head too much and had to retire. [Then I had] a year of pounding headaches and short term memory problems, and it wasn’t getting better, so I started investigating why my head hurt all the time.

"I uncovered a heck of a lot of data to find all these studies about concussions being bad for your brain. Not only that, if you take care of the concussions that you have, you can really minimize that risk, including the risk of sudden death. I was like ‘wow’, it’s strange that nobody told me that since I’ve been banging my head pretty recklessly for the last eleven years.”

Through grants, the Sports Legacy Institute, a non-profit organization, continues to educate athletes, coaches, parents and professionals on the long-lasting effects on concussions and other brain traumas. Nowinski’s group also seeks to create or improve methods for safer practice, play and treatment.

For details, visit their Web site: www.sportslegacy.org.