Assistant Journalism Professor Brett Popplewell has earned a National Magazine Awards nomination in the Investigative Reporting category for his September 2017 story “Head Games,” a probe of the scientific battle raging around concussions and long-term brain damage among former Canadian Football League players.
Popplewell’s story was previously honoured with the inaugural Allan Slaight Prize for Journalism as the most outstanding article published in The Walrus magazine in 2017. That prize was worth $10,000.
“It is a privilege to work on stories of this depth and to be published alongside so many other journalists whom I admire,” Popplewell said upon receiving that prize in January.
The NMA judges nominated a total of 208 submissions from 81 different Canadian magazines for awards in 29 written, visual, integrated and special categories. Gold, Silver and Honourable Mention awards will be announced at a gala event in Toronto on June 1. Gold winners in Writing and Visual Awards categories receive a cash prize of $1,000.
“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,” Popplewell recently explained in a synopsis of his story. “ ‘Head Games’ investigates how two competing labs are 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.”
He added: “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’ juggles nearly a dozen characters and four different storylines to tell the story of a sport whose survival hangs in the balance.”
Popplewell, who joined the journalism school in 2017, is a winner of multiple National Magazine Awards in a variety of categories, including sports and best short feature. In 2016, he also co-wrote The Escapist: How One Man Cheated Death on the World’s Highest Mountains (HarperCollins Canada).
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