Dr. Bennet Omalu’s the doctor who discovered the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy. But he thinks recent focus on CTE studies obscures the greater point he was trying to make.
Recent studies such as the one by researchers at Boston University which showed signs of CTE in 110 of 111 donated brains of former NFL players grabbed headlines, bringing attention back to the topic just before the start of another football season.
Omalu, whose diagnosis of CTE in former Steelers center Mike Webster and subsequent research became the basis for the movie “Concussion,” told Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com that he’s worried the focus on one disease creates misconceptions.
“There has been so much fascination with CTE that we are going the wrong way,” Omalu said. “CTE is just one disease in a spectrum of many diseases caused by brain trauma. If he doesn’t have CTE, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have brain damage. . . . I’ve always said that every child who plays football has a 100 percent risk of exposure to brain damage. And I’ve always said that at a professional level, 100 percent would have brain damage of some kind to some degree. That’s whether or not their brains are found to have CTE.”
Omalu is promoting a new book called “Truth Doesn’t Have a Side,” but he was careful to say he was not taking shots at the NFL, which has pledged $100 million to brain research.
“I don’t attack the NFL,” Omalu said. “I shouldn’t. The NFL is a corporation. This is a free market. What do corporations do? They try to make money by selling a product or service. The NFL is not in the business of health care. It is not a research organization. If you think the NFL is not doing anything, well, what do you expect? They are in the business of making money. The issue is parents.”
Instead, he appeals to parents, and compared efforts to square the health and safety of football players with a man who finds out his wife has cheated on him.
“He might deny it because he loves this woman,” Omalu said. “He might think there is no way it is true. Eventually he accepts that it happened. I think that’s what America is experiencing now. America is in love with football but is struggling with its truth. But just like the man in love, give him time.”
Whether that love affair ever wanes remains to be seen, but Omalu has continued to warn against the dangers of repeated blows to the head.