From an awkward intersection in the entertainment world, with the Concussion film ending its theatrical run and heading toward an expected April DVD release and an FX series on the O.J. Simpson murder case set to debut this week, comes a Bill Frist-style effort in armchair diagnosis: Dr. Bennet Omalu tells ABC News he would bet his medical license that O.J. Simpson has Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.
Actually, it’s a fairly safe bet, given that Simpson played high school, college, and professional football years before the fairly recent sensitivity to CTE — and given that so many former pro football players from every era have been diagnosed with it upon their passing.
But here’s the reality. As a matter of medical science, no one knows yet what it means to have CTE. While it’s obviously better to not have it, the notion that having it automatically means the player is destined to live a shorter life and/or suffer cognitive issues during it has not yet been established.
Omalu deserves credit for discovering CTE, and for forcing the NFL to take the issue of head trauma more seriously. But with so many members of the general public not versed in the nuances of the disease (and with the medical community perhaps decades from connecting the disease and degrees of it to specific symptoms and behavior), it’s risky to throw out as speculation the three-letter diagnosis, especially when it comes to the most notorious two-initial athlete of our time.
Apart from the possibility that some will suggest that CTE in some way explains or excuses Simpson’s behavior (and, yes, in the eyes of the California civil justice system he killed two people), linking CTE to someone like Simpson has a potentially stigmatizing effect on other former NFL players. Already, many former players obsess over the possibilities that their brains are ticking time bombs. Eventually, people who interact with former pro football players will start thinking that, too.
This isn’t about the debate raging between the War on Football crowd and those who genuinely would like to see it diminish. This is about ensuring that proper care is taken to prevent the average person from thinking that CTE potentially turns former football players into sociopaths — and from likewise thinking that every former football player must have CTE.