The Truth Behind Concussions

Research!America

Actor Will Smith joined Dr. Bennet Omalu and BIO president Jim Greenwood for a keynote address today at the BIO International Convention examining the science that led to the discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in football players and other athletes. Smith portrayed Omalu in the movie "Concussion" which focused on Omalu's discovery of CTE in former football players and his efforts to convince the National Football League (NFL) of the relationship between concussions and repetitive brain trauma with CTE. Omalu said he examined former Pittsburgh Steelers' football player Mike Webster's brain with his own money and brought it to his home which allowed him to own the intellectual property of the research.

Smith said he was inspired to portray Omalu because of his passion and determination to understand the effects of long-term repetitive brain injuries. "It's so obvious," he said. "You can't bang your head 50 or 60,000 times over your career and expect to be okay," said Smith. As a parent whose son played football, Smith said he felt compelled to tell this story. After reading the screenplay, initially he thought "how much fun Denzel would have playing this role," not wanting to tell an anti-football story. But after spending time with Omalu, he was moved by the doctor's pursuit for the truth. The experience of watching Omalu perform autopsies was "disconcerting and beautiful at the same time," added Smith, calling Omalu a "man of science who's also a man of spirituality."

Omalu said the truth can be inconvenient and overwhelming, but he wanted to use science and faith to vindicate Webster. "The power of truth helped me succeed," added Omalu, who said he instigated a class action lawsuit in Pittsburgh against the NFL on behalf of football players who suffered from CTE. The suit alleges the NFL failed to properly educate players about the dangers of professional football. Omalu said his foundation funds individuals committed to finding cures for people afflicted with CTE and traumatic brain injury.

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Without continued support for health research, many of the most promising young scientists, their ideas and a myriad of potentially life-changing scientific breakthroughs will vanish into oblivion.
Paul Marinec, PhD; University of California San Francisco