Dr. Bennet Omalu: CTE is not the point


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.

15 responses to “Dr. Bennet Omalu: CTE is not the point

  1. This guy is acting like non-football players don’t suffer from any form of mental illness like depression (7% of all Americans), memory loss (12%), dementia (10%), etc… There are close to 5,000 players in he NFL… many current and former were going to dispaly these traits whether they played football or not… it seems that we hear about the NFL players because their famous.

    Their understanding of CTE is in its’ infancy and until they study a large number of brains that represents a true cross-section of the American population we don’t know if CTE is a naturally occuring phenomen or if it is a true impact of the NFL is on its players.

    I’m pretty sure there are more fake wrestlers, MMA’ers and boxers that suffer more damage and an NFL’er… this guy is going where the money and press is for selfish versus altrusitic reasons.

  2. Let me attempt to save someone millions of dollars worth of research: Football can cause long term neurological side effects, but doesn’t impact life expectancy. Done.

    Many jobs come with an assumed health risk… most don’t pay millions of dollars to take on that risk. Let them retire if they don’t want to take on the risk, and those who do will continue to play. It’s not that complicated.

  3. 1) FACT: CTE research IS NOT in it’s infancy. It began in the early-1900’s with boxers

    2) More Americans participate in football than “fake wrestling”, mma, and boxing. So… it’s a BIGGER health problem (more costly for the United States)

    3) FACT: Professional football athletes have shorter lives

  4. doctorrustbelt says:
    So far, they have diagnosed 110 brains with CTE… all of them they suspected had CTE. It’s like going to the doctors office and finding out that everyone there has some form of malady. From those statistics they have so far extrapolated it to a point that “doctor’s offices are bad for your health!”

    Please, cite your sources because I have easily found data that NFL’ers live a few years longer than the average guy. The one’s that say otherwise are written off of guess from the 80’s or funded by the NFLPA for their concussion lawsuit.

    I’m not saying that CTE isn’t real and the NFL is harmless… I am saying is we need a control group to truly understand whether or not is naturally occurring like depression or dementia.

  5. This guy is as two-faced as Goodell. He says he’s not attacking the NFL, then outlines the way in which he is trying to wipe football as we know it out of existence.

    Football is a dangerous sport and shortens lives. Fine. If given the choice between a boring sport that doesn’t make any money and is perfectly safe or an exciting sport that makes a ton of money and carries some health risks, I prefer the latter and I imagine most of the players would, as well.

  6. Not to downplay CTE. And I firmly believe that we need to get really serious about proper protective gear ( especially helmets in both hockey and football) starting at the youth levels. But I believe that 110 % of boxers and MMA fighters have the same condition. A pretty high percentage of lacrosse, hockey, Australian Rules, stockcar and motorcross, ski jumpers etc etc are in the same boat. I know I had a concussion when I fell flat on my back while backing up to catch a pop-up and jarred my head against the ground. It happens. We now measure things more. But to focus solely on this and to jump all over football is kind of foolish. Lets get on with the protection solutions.

  7. There is risk in many choices we make. Drive in a car and you risk injury due to an accident. Life is full of choices, and choices have consequences. I think the message here is that a choice to play a contact sports has a greater risk of some kind of brain trauma than playing a non contact sport. It’s a choice, and there are consequences.

  8. 1. Football is an inherently dangerous sport – always has been, always will be.

    2. Men participate in the sport voluntarily

    2.a. They play in the pros because in 99.99% of the cases, nowhere else will they get gainful employment for 5, 6, or 7 figure salaries right out of college.

    3. The continue in the pros for the same reason – Money. The majority of pro players haven’t even finished their undergrad degrees.

    Athletes (and their parents) starting, or continuing, in the sport today cannot say they don’t know there is at least SOME level of risk of serious, lifelong, debilitating injury (brain or otherwise). There is too much publicly available information to the contrary.

    They know the risks. They choose to play because the love the money. Simple as that.

    We choose to pay for it because we love to watch the top athletes in their craft and, to some extent at least, love the primal violence. If we didn’t then we wouldn’t be fans of the sport and pay the money in the first place.

  9. “If he doesn’t have CTE, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have brain damage.”

    Good point. Media almost always misses the big picture.

  10. Doctorrustbelt
    To the first point… about how it been studies for a century… The research they referenced in this article was from a team from Boston University. A lead researcher for that team in article publised last year by NYT said. ““This research is in its infancy,” said Robert Stern, a professor of neurology and neurosurgery at the Boston University School of Medicine, who works with Dr. McKee”

  11. Football, like most occupations, has occupational hazards.
    Just like a coal miner may end up with Black Lung, a roofer may fall off, a desk jockey may end up w/Carpal-Tunnel, police, firefighters, or military may perish due to whatever of many reasons.
    The point is, while I agree that brain trauma can happen playing football (or, soccer, or any contact sport), this is to be expected. Choose another line of work.

  12. Soon after a blood test for CTE and other brain trauma is discovered, and players of all ages in a multitude of sports start getting back test results that point to their brains being affected, sports, as it is known today, will be over.

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