Concussions in the NFL: Whose Bell Was Really Rung? - City Club of Chicago

Concussions in the NFL: Whose Bell Was Really Rung?

Moderated by Lester Munson
Featuring Thomas Demetrio, Mike Ditka, Liz Nicholson, and Chris Nowinski

Monday, Sep 12, 2016

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Thomas Demetrio

Thomas A. Demetrio, co-founder of Corboy & Demetrio, is a nationally renowned trial lawyer with an emphasis on medical negligence, product liability, air plane crash, and commercial litigation on behalf of plaintiffs. He is the Past President of the Chicago Bar Association and the Illinois TrialLawyers Association.

Tom has acquired the largest personal injury verdict ever upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court and has never lost an appeal. Tom has been listed in Best Lawyers in America since 1987 and has been named by the National Law Journal as one of the nation's top ten trial lawyers and as one of the original 50 litigation "Trailblazers and Pioneers". Since 2003, Tom’s peers in both the Leading Lawyers Network and Illinois SuperLawyers have voted him as one of the top five lawyers in Illinois.

Tom is the current Chairman of the Board of IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. He also serves as a member of the boards of Big Shoulders, Archdiocese of Chicago, the Constitutional Rights Foundation of Chicago, and the Center for Disability & Elder Law. He is a past member of the Board of Trustees of IIT, Notre Dame Law School, St. Ignatius College Prep, and Mundelein Seminary.

Tom currently represents the Estates of Dave Duerson and Forrest Blue along with many other former NFL players—including former Bears quarterback Bobby Douglass—in the NFL Concussion Litigation. He also represents Hall of Famer Paul Hornung and dozens of other former players in their lawsuits against Riddell, and the families of Derek Boogaard and Steven Montedor, as well as many other former hockey players, in their concussion litigation against the NHL.

Mike Ditka

A native of Carnegie, Pennsylvania, Mike Ditka grew up as the son of a steel-mine worker. He was a three sports star in high school, and was a college football Consensus All-American at the University of Pittsburgh in 1960. Drafted in the first round by George Halas of the Chicago Bears, Ditka was the 5th overall selection in 1961 NFL draft, and was honored that year as the NFL’s Rookie of the Year.

Ditka played tight end for the National Football League’s Chicago Bears (1961-1966), Philadelphia Eagles (1967-1968) and Dallas Cowboys (1969-1972). Ditka has won three Super Bowls, as player (Dallas—Super Bowl VI), as an assistant coach (Dallas—Super Bowl XII) and as a head coach (Chicago—Super Bowl XX). He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988.

His name is synonymous with the Chicago Bears. “Da Coach" or "Iron Mike” played for and coached the Chicago Bears for 17 seasons. In 1982, Coach Halas named Ditka, the 9th Head Coach in the history of the Chicago Bears. He coached the Bears from 1982 to 1992 guiding the team to six NFC Central Divisional titles in addition to three NFC title games. His ’85 Bears won the NFL crown in Super Bowl XX. The ’85 Bears are considered amongst the NFL’s “Best Ever Team” going 18-1 that year. Twice, Ditka was named the NFL’s Coach of the Year (’85 and ’88). From 1985-1988, he lead the Bears to 52 wins—the most ever by an NFL team in a four-year span in NFL history. Ditka returned to coaching in the NFL as Head Coach for the New Orleans Saints from 1997 to 2000.

Currently, Ditka is a commentator and analyst for ESPN, a restaurateur, an actor, a commercial spokesperson and an avid golfer. He is most proud of his work with the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, which helps retired players in dire need with both financial and medical support.  As Ditka says, “caring for the men who built this billion dollar league is the right thing to do."

Ditka resides in Naples and Chicago with his wife, Diana.

Liz Nicholson

Liz Nicholson Sullivan is a leading advocate in the Chicagoland area and throughout the Midwest for retired NFL players and their wives and families.

As the wife of a 9 year NFL veteran suffering serious cognitive injuries as the result of numerous concussive and sub-concussive blows to the head, she knows all too well the devastating and sometimes tragic aftermath of a career in the NFL. Liz advocates not only for her husband Gerry Sullivan, but for her NFL brothers and sisters living with the far-reaching effects of neurodegenerative illnesses resulting from years of untreated and undiagnosed head trauma. 

Through her work as an ambassador to both the Concussion Legacy Foundation and Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, Liz partners with other wives and advocates to promote awareness of these untreated head injuries while they seek solutions and hold the League accountable for improving the safety of future generations of players. 

As a member of advocacy groups like Dignity After Football, Sisters in Sports, and Wives of Former and Current NFL players, Liz has worked alongside men and women throughout the country, encouraging open and frank discussions about the serious problems they face when dealing with debilitating rage, depression, and isolation as a result of football-related head trauma. 

Currently, Liz and husband Gerry are working with a major news organization on a video and print piece featuring their life 10 years post dementia diagnosis.

Liz Nicholson is a long-time Chicago resident and has worked in various leadership positions throughout state government and politics. In 2009, Liz was named Finance Director for Senate President John J. Cullerton and the Senate Democratic Victory Fund. In that role, Liz oversees the fundraising operation for one of the largest state Democratic caucuses in the country. 

Chris Nowinski

Chris Nowinski is the Co-founder and President of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to solving the sports concussion crisis through advocacy, education, policy, and research. He co-founded the Boston University Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Program and VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank in 2008, where he currently serves as the Outreach, Recruitment, Education, and Public Policy Leader.

After an All-Ivy football career at Harvard—where he graduated cum laude—Chris became a professional wrestler with WWE, where he was named 2002 “Newcomer of the Year” by Raw Magazine, and was a two-time Hardcore Champion before he was forced to retire at the age of 24 due to post-concussion syndrome. His challenging recovery led him to write the critically-acclaimed book Head Games in 2006 in an effort to educate parents, coaches, and children about this previously hidden public health issue. The book is now in its third edition as Head Games: The Global Concussion Crisis, and was adapted for the 2012 award-winning documentary of the same name by celebrated director Steve James.

In 2010 he was named as a finalist for Sports Illustrated “Sportsman of the Year”. In his nominating piece, Pablo Torre wrote, It is Nowinski's figure which looms behind the doctors and the headlines and the debate roiling over sports' newfound commitment to minimizing head trauma." A 2010 Eisenhower Fellow, Chris is completing a Ph.D. in Behavioral Neuroscience at BU School of Medicine, and serves on the NFL Players Association Mackey-White TBI Committee, the Ivy League Concussion Committee, Positive Coaching Alliance National Advisory Board, and as a consultant to Major League Lacrosse.

Chris was born in Oak Park and attended John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights. The Concussion Legacy Foundation is active is Chicago providing educational programming and policy consulting to organizations including the Chicago Public Schools, Latin School, and the Chicago Park District. Learn more at

Lester Munson

Lester Munson is a writer and reporter at and ESPN who specializes in legal affairs and investigations. For 21 years, he has reported on money, celebrity, violence, sex, drugs, race, gender, greed, court decisions, and government actions in the sports industry. His recent assignments include the indictment of Roger Clemens for perjury, the sexual assault charges against Ben Roethlisberger, labor union issues in the National Football League and the National Hockey League, and the investigation of Lance Armstrong for use of performance-enhancing drugs.

From 1991 to 2004, he was on the staff of Sports Illustrated. He is a graduate of Princeton University and the University of Chicago Law School and is a lawyer licensed to practice in Illinois. His wife, Judith, is the Executive Director of the International Collaborative for Public Health Emergency Preparedness and has devoted her legal career to public health issues on the local, state, and federal levels. Lester and Judith live in Chicago.

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