by Karen Kelly, Faculty of Public Affairs
Assistant Journalism Professor Brett Popplewell has won the inaugural Allan Slaight Prize for Journalism for the most outstanding article published in The Walrus magazine in 2017. The prize is worth $10,000.
“I’m both humbled and honoured to receive this award,” said Popplewell. “It it is a privilege to work on stories of this depth and to be published alongside so many other journalists whom I admire. I am thankful to The Walrus and to the Slaight Family Foundation for continuing to support long-form journalism.”
In a synopsis of his story, entitled “Head Games”, Popplewell wrote:
While a lot has been written about the role of concussions in the National Hockey League and the National Football League, no magazine had attempted a major science-of-concussions feature that linked the current thinking about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) to the Canadian Football League. Head Games investigates how two competing labs racing to find the link between concussions and long-term brain damage. The first lab, based in Boston, is largely responsible for the narrative that concussions are a main cause of CTE; their rivals, working out of Toronto, are skeptical. The CFL is taking the lowered rate of discovery in Toronto as a sign that maybe the Canadian version of the game is safer. In the middle of this cross-border scientific divide, are the broken-down players, who are duking it out in multi-million-dollar lawsuits against the CFL and are unsure about what to make of the things happening inside their head. Head Games chronicles their stories and shows the wreckage of these former athletes through their day-to-day struggles. The story also includes family members who agreed to detail the extent of how these men have changed—how they end up destroying all their memorabilia, how they are undone by paranoia and how they fight the daily urge to get in their cars and drive into a cliff or oncoming traffic. It’s often forgotten that many of the brain-damaged former CFLers are also former US college stars; guys who came north, got their brains mangled in front of dwindling crowds in Winnipeg and Montreal, and then moved home to places like Missouri and Tennessee. With on-the-ground reporting from Toronto, Hamilton, Vancouver, Boston and Los Angeles, Head Games juggles nearly a dozen characters and four different storylines to tell the story of a sport whose survival hangs in the balance.
Popplewell is also a winner of multiple National Magazine Awards. In 2016, he co-wrote The Escapist: How One Man Cheated Death on the World’s Highest Mountains (HarperCollins Canada).
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