Dr. Bennet Omalu became the public face of brain-related injuries in the football world when he became first to discover and publish findings of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). His story was depicted in the blockbuster Hollywood film Concussion, which starred Will Smith.
Omalu has remained somewhat quiet on the topic since his findings were released and he met with the NFL. Though, behind the scenes, he’s been working on a follow-up to his previous studies.
In promoting a new book, Truth Doesn’t Have a Side, the doctor opened up candidly about the state of brain-related injuries in football and his overall view of the NFL as it relates to CTE.
“There has been so much fascination with CTE that we are going the wrong way,” Omalu said, via ESPN. “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.”
The focus here was on a recent study that showed 110 of 111 former NFL players who had their brain studies showed signs of CTE (more on that here).
Omalu is clearly stating that there are other widespread issues relating to brain-related injuries outside of CTE itself. That’s a sobering remark from a man who was at the forefront of the concussion issue earlier this decade and dating back to the 2000s.
“There is no such thing as a safe blow to the head,” the doctor continued. “And then when you have repeated blows to your head, it increases the risk of permanent brain damage. Once you start having hundreds or thousands of blows, there is a 100 percent risk of exposure to permanent brain damage. The brain does not have a reasonable capacity to regenerate. This is something we have always known.”
Omalu’s previous findings indicated that the human body is not meant to withstand multiple head-on collisions at the speed we see on the football field. It’s a stance that has been backed by the scientific community since he released his first findings more than a decade ago.
Despite the doctor’s stance on the topic, he’s had what we’d describe as a hostile relationship with an NFL that has been slow to get on the bandwagon. Just recently, NFL Commissioner Rodger Goodell indicated that there’s “an awful lot more questions than there are answers” as it relates to CTE and its relationship to football. If that’s not tone deaf, especially following recent studies, we’re not sure what is.
Though, Omalu himself does seemingly defend the NFL while throwing criticism in the direction of parents who let their children play football starting at a young age.
“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.”
These comments are sure to raise eyebrows around the football world. And if Dr. Omalu is indeed back in the public eye, it will only lead to greater debate on the topic. That’s definitely not a bad thing.