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Sports Legacy Institute’s Chris Nowinski discusses MLB's new home-plate collision rule

By: Devon Teeple

Major League Baseball has adopted a new rule, a rule that will protect catchers from collisions at home plate. I can’t say that I’m against it. Presumably, most people will say that running the catcher is a part of the game. Now don’t get me wrong I completely understand that, but you have to take into consideration the safety of the players and what’s at stake.

Major League Baseball has adopted this new rule it to eliminate vicious hits, according to USA Today.

"Our goal is to eliminate the vicious hits, for a base runner to go and instead of targeting home plate, he's going to target the catcher, like in the Posey case,'' said Joe Torre, MLB's vice president of baseball operations, who has been briefing teams on the collision rule and the expanded use of replay.

The new guidelines still allow runners to initiate contact if the catcher has the ball and is blocking the plate. Runners don't have to slide, but those who do won't be found in violation of the rule.

He can run into (the catcher), but he can't elbow him, shoulder him,'' Torre said, "and that's where the replay stuff is going to come in.''

Florida Marlins’ Scott Cousins trampled Posey in a brutal home plate collision during the middle of the 2011 season. Posey’s ankle so severely broken, he had to miss the rest of the year. The Giants looking to repeat as World Series champions came in second, an agonizing eight games back of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Buster Posey’s broken leg has been the most violent and most talked about collision in recent memory. It’s probably the single most important incident in this whole debate.

What we don’t talk about is concussions. We focus on Posey’s ankle and other leg injuries. What about the blows to the head that occur during the collision and head injuries in general?

I decided to reach out to Chris Nowinski, a Harvard graduate and leading expert on concussions and head trauma in the United States.

You might remember Nowinski from WWE and Monday Night Raw. He debuted in 2002 and was forced to retire in 2003 after a series of concussions left him with post-concussion syndrome. In an effort to educate parents, coaches, the medical community and children about a condition that is severely misunderstood, he published Head Games: Football’s Concussion Crisis in 2006 and co-founded the Sports Legacy Institute in 2007.

According to SLI, “Chris co-founded SLI with Dr. Cantu to solve the sports concussion crisis through education, awareness, policy, and research. In 2008, SLI partnered with Boston University School of Medicine to found the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, the first research center in the world dedicated to the study of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease associated with brain trauma.

Nowinski and SLI have been featured on almost every news and sports outlet imaginable and the body of work is second to none. He is educating the world on concussions, the likes we have never seen.

The GM’s Perspective: Why did it take Major League Baseball so long to adopt this rule?

Chris Nowinski: Tough to say. Could be that because baseball has a long and storied tradition, any changes in baseball seem to be more scrutinized than in other sports.

GMs: It seems like baseball is behind the times when it comes to rule changes like this. Do you think what they are doing is the right thing? And do you think they should have adopted this strategy years ago?

CN: I definitely think they did. Trying to eliminate the amount of collisions at home plate is a good thing. It has caused numerous injuries to players and is unnecessary. Fans want to see the best players on the field. There hadn’t been the evidence of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) in baseball. A concussion, when diagnosed, is perceived as a manageable problem. However, when that CTE conversation takes place, all opportunities for prevention of brain trauma should be explored, and it is now thanks to Ryan Freel.

GMs: There aren’t many concussion issues in baseball, at least not publicly. Ryan Freel suffered from CTE, when he died of a self-inflected gunshot wound in December of 2012. The Sports Legacy Institute reported the findings of Boston University researchers to the Freel Family, and together they met with MLB at the Winter Meetings at Lake Buena Vista in 2013. According to FoxNews.com he was suffering from Stage II CTE.

CN: In reality, they made the move to get rid of the collisions before they were even aware of these findings, which I think shows that Major League Baseball is being proactive.

GMs: You’ve done a lot of work with the NFL. Have you seen a reduction in concussions with the implementation of their new rules?

CN: The data released at the Super Bowl said concussions are going down. It’s hard to know how much of that is true because most concussions are not well reported or diagnosed. I would imagine, overall, they are going down because there have been restrictions on kick-offs and fewer hits to the head. That still doesn’t mean that there aren’t more than the players are reporting.

GMs: How can people get in touch with you or learn more about the work you do and the Sports Legacy Institute? If an athlete were struggling with concussions or side effects, would they contact you directly?

CN: Our website is SportsLegacy.org Most of our work is in education, policy and research. A lot of research is done at Boston University and with the Boston Veterans Administration Medical Centers. For athletes that are suffering from concussion symptoms, we have a microsite: ConcussionClinics.org that links to clinics in the USA who have concussion expertise. The idea being, we want all athletes who have concussions to see concussions experts.

Without people like Chris Nowinski leading the way, these issues could still be going undetected. What he’s doing to educate the public is really special. It’s great to know people like this are going that extra mile for the greater good, regardless of how difficult it may be and the stigma associated with head injuries.

Devon is the Founder and Executive Director of The GM's Perspective. He is a former professional baseball player with the River City Rascals & Gateway Grizzlies. Currently, Devon is a Manager at a financial institution in Northern Ontario Canada, and can be reached at devon@thegmsperspective.com. You can follow The GM's Perspective on twitter and facebook. His full bio can be seen here.

 



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