font-family: 'Arizonia', cursive; Michael Stichauf - "As I understand it now...'til it changes": "Concussion"- C.T.E., From the N.F.L.'s Dirty Secret to Major Motion Picture

Friday, January 1, 2016

"Concussion"- C.T.E., From the N.F.L.'s Dirty Secret to Major Motion Picture

 hronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (C.T.E.) has gone from the N.F.L.’s dirty little secret to, now, becoming a major motion picture and it’s all due to one quiet, humble forensic pathologist who wouldn’t let the N.F.L. bully him into retracting his findings.

When Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu came into work one fateful day in September of 2002, he had no idea that the unfortunate, lifeless body on his autopsy table would eventually yield a discovery that would change his life forever. The body on the table was football great, Mike Webster. The discovery that would change Dr. Omalu's life was C.T.E., Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. 

According to Boston University, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy is;
"a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain traumas, including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic sub-concussive hits to the head."
Boston University goes on to state that C.T.E. has been known since the 1920s as a disease that affected boxers. 

For decades, "Punch Drunk" was what people would call boxers who seemed to be forgetful or take a long time to answer a rather simple question. Maybe an old-time boxer would exhibit some aggressive actions or even show some bouts of depression. These, as we're coming to find out, are also some of the symptoms of C.T.E. 

Boxers are athletes who willingly and consciously decide to make their living knowing that they will be continuously punched in the face and head. Whether they knew that they would be accepting a career that would have life long consequences because they'd suffer these "repetitive brain traumas, including symptomatic concussions" through continuous "hits to the head", no one knows. What's even worse is that boxers suffer from these repetitive, sub-concussive hits to the head as very young adults... actually, as children because they tend to start their careers at such
Young Player After A Hard Hit To The Head
young ages. The data has shown that the earlier the brain suffers from these traumas, the worse it is for the brain. 

Like boxers, football players also start their careers at very young ages. Yet, football players had hardly been accused of being "Punch Drunk". When they're old enough, they too, will willingly and consciously decide to make their living in a job that will include consistently getting hit in the head. Yet, because of the story I'm about to tell, these future football players will know much more about the career that they will be choosing. They will have a lot more knowledge than their predecessors to make an educated decision as to whether they want to make their living knowing that they will also be suffering from "repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions" through continuous "hits to the head".

The Beginning

Mike Webster- Playing Days

Mike Webster was a professional football player who played fifteen of his seventeen year career for the Pittsburgh Steelers. During his fifteen year career as the Steelers' center he won four Super Bowls, in large part, due to his leadership of the offensive line. Consequently, as a result of his great play at the center position, Webster was an inductee into the "Pro Football Hall of Fame". Unfortunately, it was this very position, center, that would change Webster's life, do irreparable damage to his brain and turn him into a shell of the person he once was. Eventually, Mike Webster would suffer from depression, drug addiction, dementia and a host of other symptoms now being associated with C.T.E. According to his son, he ended up living out of one of the only things he had left to his name- a pick-up truck! Webster once told his son that he was at a point where, if he didn't have his medication and he got cold, he didn't realize that he could fix it by just putting on a jacket. What's so sad about his situation is that, when he tried to tell people what was going on inside his head, the ones who didn't know him dismissed him as simply a "drug addict" who, sadly, was succumbing
Webster, Unable To Complete
a Thought In An Interview
to his disease. They refused to look at the fact that there was something deeper that was causing him to turn to drug addiction in order to ease the pain that he was going through- pain, that he couldn't understand and couldn't get others to understand, either!

Being a center in the N.F.L. meant that Mike Webster would suffer car collision type impacts to his head on virtually every single play! According to one neurosurgeon, those impacts could occur with the force of up to 20 G's. The force of 20 G's translates into getting hit by a car travelling at 35 m.p.h.! This would happen over and over again for possibly 30 to 40 plays, every Sunday that Webster played, for seventeen years. Now, this doesn't count the hundreds of times this happened throughout the week in practice, or the thousands of times it happened in the years previous to his N.F.L. career, when he played football as a young adult and a child! Yet, this was the life of a football player. Athletes before Webster had played this same game, with this same ferocity, and athletes after Webster had played this same game, with this same ferocity, as well.

The Scientist 

Dr. Bennet Omalu

You have to respect those who leave their country of birth to come to America because of it's promise of hope and prosperity. "The American Way", with it's liberty and free speech guarantees is what make this country great, as well as attractive to immigrants. "The American Way" is why Dr. Bennet Omalu left Nigeria in 1994 to come to America. Omalu left Nigeria and arrived in Seattle, Washington with his Bachelor's degree in both, Medicine and Surgery, in hand. In 1995, he went to New York and Columbia University's Harlem Hospital Center to do a residency training program in anatomic and clinical pathology. After he completed his residency, he left for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to train with one of the most respected and renowned forensic pathologists, Cyril Wecht, at the Allegheny County Coroner's office. While training as a forensic pathologist under Wecht, Omalu became very interested in the specialized field of Neuropathology, which is the study of diseases of the nervous system including the brain. It was at Omalu's Allegheny County Coroner's office that the body of Mike Webster ended up after a roller-coaster type journey of over twenty years. When Dr. Omalu finished his autopsy on Webster, those twenty years that Webster's body and soul suffered, would finally give up it's secrets. Secrets, that Webster had tried to bring out into the open but to no avail.

The N.F.L.

The "National Football League" is a multi-billion dollar entity. According to a July 20th, 2015 article on CNN's "Money" website, "N.F.L. sees big jump in revenue" , the N.F.L. "... and it's 32 teams took in an estimated $12 billion last season (2014), a 14.3% jump from the previous year's estimated total of $10.5 billion." Make no mistake; the N.F.L. is a revenue juggernaut! As it stands now, it's the number one most lucrative league in the world. From an outsider's point of view, it would seem as if the N.F.L. is doing very well for itself... and they would be right! The N.F.L. is doing very well for itself! The problem is; a percentage of their former and current players aren't doing so well for themselves. In fact, for others who are tangentially associated with the N.F.L., wives and children, they aren't doing very well, either.

Domestic Violence

Over the last few years, the N.F.L. has been faced with having to deal with the problem of domestic violence in the ranks of it's players. In a "Sports Illustrated" online article from September 17, 2014, it's opening paragraph says it all;
"From Jan. 1, 2012, to Sept. 17, 2014, 33 N.F.L. players were arrested on charges involving domestic violence, battery, assault and murder. In the last two calendar years, at least 15 of those players were arrested for violence against women."
 This includes Adrian Peterson who was indicted for "injury to a child" for hitting his son with the branch of a tree while disciplining him.

In recent years, the N.F.L. has been woefully negligent and irresponsible in dealing with this tragic epidemic that's been plopped on their doorstep! In some instances, they've done little or nothing and in the instances over the last few months, they've only done something after public outrage and, in the case of Ray Rice, video evidence made it impossible for them to avoid! For an institution (make no mistake, the N.F.L. is an institution- an American institution) that doesn't have to follow the procedures of the law, to take as long as the N.F.L. did to penalize it's players for such egregious acts of violence is almost unforgivable negligence. What might even be worse is the fact that the public outrage didn't erupt over the way that the N.F.L. handled these cases until they saw the video footage from the elevator that Ray Rice and his wife were in when Rice viciously knocked her out- COLD- with one punch! Or, until they found out that a child was a victim, as was the case with Peterson. It's as if, according to the public's lack of outrage prior to these two instances, they weren't real because they didn't see them happen or until a child was involved.

Now, you might be asking why I'm talking about domestic violence when the subject of this post is supposed to be about C.T.E.? It's simple, there's evidence that the two are linked. Boston University, a leading institution in the research of C.T.E. has found lesions in the brains of many retired and deceased N.F.L. players. These lesions, in the temporal lobes of these players, are found to affect self-control and emotions- two things involved in domestic violence. While the University hasn't made the definitive statement that there is definitely a link between the two, the evidence doesn't make it a stretch to assume that they are linked. The online "Cerebrum Health Centers" article on this subject says it better than this post can;
"Football is an inherently violent game; ingrained in the brains of players from the time they are children. For years the brain is being jolted around during games and practices, slowly causing damage to the frontal lobe, which also helps to control behavior and emotions. With such violence taught to the players paired with the loss of inhibition due to repeated hits to the brain, it is reasonable to propose a link between brain damage and domestic violence."
Although the "Cerebrum Health Centers" article deals mostly with brain damage caused by lesions found in the frontal lobes of the brains examined by the University, C.T.E. has been found in many of the other brains examined and those brains belonged to players who also had committed acts of domestic violence. Two of those cases are especially tragic; Jovan Belcher and Paul Oliver. 

The Tragedies

On the morning of December 1, 2012 Jovan Belcher, linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs, shot his girlfriend multiple times (killing her) and then drove to the Chief's practice facility. Once he gathered his head coach and a couple of other Chief's officials out in the parking lot, he told them how much he had appreciated the help they had tried
to give him, asked them to take care of his baby, knelt on the ground, made the sign of the cross and shot himself in the head! The "baby" he was talking about was his three-month-old daughter Zoey, who he left with no parents. 

Right off the bat, Belcher's story is a little different than most. He didn't exhibit many years of violence prior to this violent act. In fact, while in college he was a member of a group called, "Male Athletes Against Violence" and with the Chiefs, he was an active participant in many charitable events that they would sponsor. No, leading up to this terrible act, Jovan Belcher was not a walking time-bomb. At least not one who you could see was ready to explode at any moment. Yet, when you talk to some of his friends, little signs that there might be a problem ready to detonate were starting to manifest themselves. 

In the year prior to his act, Belcher and his girlfriend were having problems. Periodically, they would separate and then get back together. Belcher was also under tremendous pressure at linebacker with the Chiefs. He was always hearing how he should be replaced because he just wasn't cutting it. Also, Belcher seemed to be injured all the time. Not the kind of injuries that would keep someone out of practice or a game but always in pain. Pain, his friends said, that
Jovan Belcher
precipitated his need for lots of pain killers!

At this point in Jovan's story you might be wondering, "All this stuff is common in the N.F.L. Why should he be any different?" You're right. All N.F.L. players go through periods where their ability is questioned. Most N.F.L. players have problems at home, at least many of them do- no different than the rest of us out here. But, there is another incident that happened to Jovan, 13 short days prior to the day that he killed his girlfriend and himself, that is both scary and foretelling! 

On November 18, 2012, the Chiefs played the Cincinnati Bengals. Near the end of the fourth quarter, Belcher leveled a crushing tackle on the Cincinnati running back. It was a tackle that, for sure, was violent but nothing more than some of the other more bruising tackles that occurred that
A Crushing Belcher Tackle
day. Belcher seemed to get up a little slow but it could have been, simply, the result of it being the end of a long, tiring day. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. 

Throughout the following week, Jovan, according to friends, just wasn't right. He started suffering from headaches. He became forgetful and, here's the kicker, he was having bouts of extreme emotions! That's right- extreme emotional outbursts and they were outbursts of anger! It seemed like, all of a sudden, Jovan Belcher became someone who his friends just didn't know. It seemed like, Jovan Belcher was becoming that time-bomb that was ready to explode!

Although, outwardly, it may have seemed that Belcher's outbursts of anger suddenly occurred but when you talk to a couple of his friends, they'll tell you that Belcher was convinced that he had suffered multiple concussions over the previous year. That being said, you can start to see how this tragedy, although certainly unpredictable, had the perfect environment in which to develop. Jovan Belcher's brain ended up being examined by another expert in the field of C.T.E., Dr. Piotr Kozlowski who, of course, discovered evidence of C.T.E. in seven out of seven areas of Belcher's brain! Seven out of seven! That's incredible. So, although Belcher hadn't shown many previous signs of extreme anger, his recent concussion coupled with his C.T.E. created a perfect storm for his egregious act of violence to develop.What a tragedy!

In one other case of tragic violence, Chelsea Oliver tells H.B.O.'s "Real Sports with Bryant Gumble" about the suicide of her husband, former N.F.L. player, Paul Oliver. Watch her interview below;

It should come as no surprise that, when his widow donated his brain to be examined, Oliver's brain was discovered to have C.T.E. Imagine that! In the previous paragraph, I mentioned that Oliver committed an act of "tragic violence". Although Paul Oliver didn't physically hurt anyone else but himself when he committed suicide, by killing himself in front of his wife and children, he committed an act of "virtual violence" to them. No one should have to see someone shoot themselves, especially that person's loved ones!

The Discovery

Throughout the morning and throughout the autopsy of Mike Webster, Omalu heard about the crazy life that Webster had lived after football. He was hearing about the depression, the drug abuse and the violent, uncontrollable outbursts of anger. The news talked about how he had been living out of his pick-up truck. Others talked about the forgetfulness and confusion he suffered from, as well as the fact that he used a taser gun on himself, just to get some
sleep! So, Omalu figured that he'd know what to expect
Omalu Working
when he looked at Webster's brain. Webster's brain, though, didn't cooperate!

As Omalu took the brain in his hands, he realized that this wasn't the brain of someone with "Alzheimer's Disease" or "Dementia Pugilistica" (punch drunk). Those brains are mushy and shriveled. Webster's brain seemed like the brain of someone who didn't have any brain damage or any known disease of the brain. This left Omalu in a quandary; how should he proceed? After all, he knew what the cause of death was; a heart attack. That's all Omalu's job was; verify the cause of death. But, that wasn't good enough for this unique neuropathologist. He wanted answers to the cause of Mike Webster's crazy life after football. Answers, that he couldn't see from the outward appearance of Webster's brain.

Dr. Bennet Omalu is unique in his world of the dead. Most doctors get to have a rapport with their patients, a communication that helps the doctor diagnose what is wrong with his patient. Coroners/neuropathologists just have the body in front of them to dissect and that isn't as easy as it sounds. Dr. Omalu, in his own unique way, tries to establish what you might call; a "spiritual connection" with his patient on the table in front of him. He explains it this way;
Omalu Interview
"There is a practice I have. I am a spiritual person. I'm a Catholic. I treat my patients, the dead patients, as live patients. I believe that there is life after death. And I talk to my patients. I talk to them, not loudly but quietly in my heart when I look at them. Before I do an autopsy, I must have a visual contact with the face. I do that. I'll come out of respect; I'll look at the face."
 This is Dr. Bennet Omalu's modus operandi which he revealed to the "Frontline" producers who interviewed him for their award-winning program, "League of Denial: The N.F.L.'s Concussion Crisis".

As Omalu stood over Webster's body and was deciding what to do, he quietly said to Webster, 
"Mike, you need to help me. You need to help me. Let's prove them wrong. You are a victim of football, but you need to help me wherever you are. You need to. I can't do this by myself. I'm a nobody. But you need to help me. Let's prove them wrong."
This, is the person who Dr. Bennet Omalu is. He thinks of himself as a kind of advocate for the dead. And now, he has a brain in his hands and he can't figure out what's wrong with it. This situation has gotten under his skin and he's not going to put it down until he figures it out.

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy

Back at Mike Webster's autopsy table, Omalu's indecision finally turned to decision- he was going to figure out what was wrong with Webster's brain! Omalu turned to the technician and told him to "fix" the brain. When the technician started to ask him why they were "fixing" a perfectly normal brain, Omalu cut him off and said, "Fix the brain"! "Fixing" a brain means that it's preserved in a solution in order for it to be examined at a later date. Omalu knew that he'd need permission from Webster's family and that would take some time. The tests that he wanted to run would also take some time so it was wise to "fix" the brain. Omalu's decision to "fix" Mike Webster's brain was to be a decision, which would forever change the N.F.L and the world of football! 

Without any hesitation, Mike Webster's family gave permission for Dr. Omalu to do what he felt needed to be done to figure out just what it was that caused Mike's problems. Omalu studied the brain. He sliced it and
examined it and he was simply not finding what he felt the problem was. He sent the tissue samples out to the "University of Pittsburgh" lab to run tests and to create plates to examine. He took his research home with him. He ordered stacks of papers from libraries to see if there was a disease that he was missing. He ordered so many papers that one of the librarians asked him to actually confirm who he was because he was ordering so many papers. It finally got to a point where Omalu started paying for everything out of his own pocket. The job of a pathologist working for a county coroner's office (a job paid for by the tax payers of the county) is to just verify the cause of death which, in Mike Webster's case, was already known. Anything more could be a cause for misuse of public funds. Dr. Omalu had a problem that he couldn't solve and it was distressing him because he gave Mike Webster's family his word that he'd figure it out... he gave Mike Webster his word! For this reason, he'd use his own money to get the answers for them.

After a while, Omalu finally got the results that the "University of Pittsburgh's" lab had conducted. When he initially picked the results up from the lab, he put them on a shelf and forgot about them. After a while of them sitting there, hidden on the shelf, he finally opened them up and there it was! He couldn't believe it! His first reaction after viewing the initial set of slides was to look at the name on them again to make sure that they were Mike Webster's. He did that because what he saw were changes to the brain that a 50 year old man's brain shouldn't have! 

What Dr. Omalu found in those slides were, "abnormal proteins in his brain, so-called neurofibrillary tangles, threads." More specifically, he saw dark spots in many areas of Webster's brain that, in normal brains, simply aren't there. Normal brains, when compared with a brain that has C.T.E., just have a consistent whitish or off-whitish color and the brains with C.T.E. have dark splotches in whole areas that are unmistakably visible when viewed under a microscope. These dark splotches are the build-up of an abnormal protein called "Tau". "Tau protein" can be found in any of the areas of the brain and in some patients, Jovan Belcher for example, "Tau protein" was found in seven out of the seven areas of his brain that were examined!

Now that Dr. Omalu found his culprit, he had to decide how to proceed. He wanted to take it slowly because he didn't want to mess this up. He felt that his discovery was so important that he decided he would take it to some of the other scientists who he respected. He would wait to publish until he had their opinions. This, of course, is the route that any smart scientist would take over a situation such as this. Yet, it's also the route that someone as humble as Bennet Omalu would take, as well. 

When you watch the "Frontline" special- "League of Denial" or it's companion piece, "The Frontline Interviews- Dr. Bennet Omalu", you get a real good sense of Dr. Omalu's demeanor and personality. He's kind of a jovial guy. He has a smile on his face quite often, except when he talks of the attacks and accusations that he took from the N.F.L.- obviously, a very disturbing issue with him. He's not arrogant when he discusses this issue but he's confident in his knowledge. You understand that this is a man on a mission without him coming off as over-bearing or self-righteous in his zeal. The other characteristic that really caught my attention, though, and what really endears him to others, I believe, is his humility. His humility really shows when he talks of the meeting that he had with one of the well-respected names in neuro research, Dr. Steven DeKosky.
Dr. Steven DeKosky

Dr. Steven DeKosky, in 2005, was the Director of Alzheimer's Research at the University of Pittsburgh. Of course, with Omalu being at the "Allegheny County Coroner's Office" and that being in close proximity to the University of Pittsburgh, Omalu was fortunate to have access to this highly respected doctor. It was suggested that he go to DeKosky with his findings after he first showed them to Dr. Ronald Hamilton, a Neuropathologist who was also at the University. What Omalu needed was for DeKosky to verify that what he discovered in Webster's brain wasn't Alzheimer's but a rather new discovery that hadn't been seen in the brains of football players. That's exactly what DeKosky saw in Webster's slides. DeKosky agreed that it wasn't Alzheimer's and that Omalu had something significant. What really impressed Omalu, though, was the fact that DeKosky spent over two hours discussing the issue with someone like him, a nobody (Omalu's assessment of himself). When you watch Omalu, in the interview, refer to himself as "a nobody", you immediately understand that it has nothing to do with lack
Dr. Ronald Hamilton
of self-esteem but just genuine humility. A humility born from his gratitude for America giving him a wonderful life. 

With Drs. Hamilton and DeKosky, as well as Dr. Cyril Wecht (Omalu's boss), in agreement that Omalu was on to something, Omalu decided to publish his findings. In the three years that Omalu spent on his pet project, he found that the N.F.L. had been publishing their own papers on concussions and head trauma. The "M.T.B.I. Committee" (Mild Traumatic Brain Injury) had been set-up by the N.F.L. in 1994 to study and research the problem of head injuries and concussions because they were starting to cause some rumblings within the N.F.L. community. The journal they chose for their research findings was, "Neurosurgery". Thinking the N.F.L. would welcome his discovery as a way to help it's athletes, Omalu decided he'd also submit his paper to "Neurosurgery". 

The procedure that's followed when a medical journal is deciding on whether to publish a paper is rather simple. They have two experts in the field that the paper is about read it and then decide whether they agree on it. If they have two different opinions, a third expert is brought in. Whatever side the third expert sides with is how the decision is finally made. When they considered Dr. Omalu's paper, they had eighteen experts in the field read it over! Eighteen! Knowing that the N.F.L.'s "M.T.B.I." committee had been using "Neurosurgery" journal to publish their papers, it's not a stretch to think that they were behind the attempt to squelch the paper! There isn't any definitive proof that I've been able to come up with but with the drastic departure from their usual procedures, it seems very suspicious as to the way they vetted it. 

The M.T.B.I. Committee

One of the first things that people should have recognized when they read any of the findings from the "M.T.B.I. Committee" was the name that they chose to call the committee-"Mild Traumatic Brain Injury". The fact that they chose to use the word, "Mild", is a really good indication as to only how far they'd be willing to go with their findings, as the industry would see in the years to come.

In 1994, as the result of mounting head injuries and concussions, the N.F.L. formed the "M.T.B.I Committee" to start doing research on the issue. It chose as it's initial Chairman, Dr. Elliot Pellman, team doctor of the "New York Jets". Two of the earlier and longtime doctors on the committee were Dr. David Viano and Dr. Ira Casson. These two doctors would eventually become extremely controversial and divisive figures in the C.T.E. debate. In doing my research on this committee I must admit, I had an extremely hard time finding any information about it! You would think that the N.F.L. would have had a website
Dr. Ira Casson- The Infamous "Dr. NO!"
specifically for this committee but I have found no such website! All the information that I was able to find was gleaned from other news sources and other websites, which have reported on the concussion/C.T.E. issue over the years and considering the information that they had, it seems that they had a hard time finding information themselves.

It seems that for about the first eight to ten years of the committee, they really didn't have much to say. It wasn't until about the time that Mike Webster died that they started to publish papers in a journal called, "Neuorosurgery". I'm not saying that it was Webster's death and the subsequent fallout that instigated their papers, though, I honestly can't tell. According to "The New York Times" article, "The N.F.L.'s Embattled Concussion Panel" , the "M.T.B.I." released it's first of thirteen papers in October of 2003. Over the next couple of years they release more papers, all of which say that, basically, there are no ill effects to players going back into games where they've sustained concussions. They also say that there's no difference to a player's health
Paul Tagliabue, previous NFL Commish, and his comments
about Mild Traumatic Brain Injury
whether they suffer one or two or multiple concussions throughout their careers! Statements, which are to the contrary of other experts in the field. 

When Dr Omalu decided, with the backing of his colleagues, to submit his research to "Neurosurgery", he had no idea what was about to come crashing down upon him! As I've stated, this is a humble, relatively naive man wading into a pool of sharks and he didn't even know it. Omalu came to this country because he thought that it was the greatest country on earth. With all the things that go along with that way of thinking, Omalu figured that the N.F.L. would embrace his findings and use them as a way to help benefit the players. Why? Because that's what institutions of the greatest country in the world, do. Dr. Bennet Omalu was sorely mistaken. He didn't realize that one of the biggest corporate juggernauts in America was planning to go to war with him and his findings. As one of the characters in the trailer for the new movie about this story, "Concussion", states, "You are going to war with a corporation that owns a day of the week... before they owned it, the church owned it!" That's one of the most powerful statements I've heard in a long time! Watch the trailer below;

The N.F.L. Onslaught

The first response from the N.F.L. and the "M.T.B.I. Committee" was to accuse Omalu of fraud and demand a retraction of his findings from the journal. Omalu was stunned! Not only did they go after Omalu but, somehow, the F.B.I. got involved in the situation and charged Dr. Cyril Wecht with a litany of charges because he was in charge of the Allegheny County Coroner's Office when Omalu was doing all his work on Webster's brain. The charges were similar to, and including, doing private work on government time- all this in an attempt to squelch the findings from Omalu, Wecht, Hamilton and DeKosky! Eventually, all the charges against Wecht were dropped.
Dr. Cyril Wecht
Yet, it goes to show you just how far the N.F.L. was/is willing to go in order to control the message that the public was/is going to hear about head trauma!

As the information from Omalu's work became public knowledge, of course, the media got involved. Their involvement, for the most part, has been beneficial to Omalu and has helped get this story out. Yet, the N.F.L. has also tried to use it to their advantage. In some instances, though, it has backfired on them. In a segment from H.B.O.'s "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel", interviewer Bernard Goldberg asked the "M.T.B.I. Committee's" Dr. Ira Casson, who was a longtime member and one-time co-chair of the committee, a number of questions regarding whether or not multiple head injuries can be linked to depression, dementia or early onset Alzheimer's disease. To each different disease, Casson answered with a terse, arrogant, condescending "No!". With the airing of this episode, Dr. Casson soon became known as "Dr. No" and it typified the kind of attitude and response that the N.F.L. was giving to the whole issue. Here is a clip of the interview;

In other attempts to discredit Omalu and his work, they called his research "voodoo medicine" and bad science. As I stated earlier, they also accused him of fraud! Yet, what gave Omalu the confidence that he needed was when, in response to the many accusations from the doctors of the committee, Omalu came to the realization that he knew more about the disease that he discovered than the doctors whose job it was to know! 

Lately, it seems that when the forces of "good" and "evil" are locked in a battle to decide which side is going to triumph, "evil", seems to come out on top. This situation with the N.F.L. and the health of their players seemed to be no different. Bennet Omalu, the optimist, was losing faith in his adopted country. He simply couldn't understand why the N.F.L. wasn't willing to help their players. Unfortunately, it was going to get worse. It was going to get tragically worse! 

The Tragedy Continues

As Omalu's report was published and starting to cause problems, two former N.F.L. players committed suicide and the results of a third's autopsy would rock the N.F.L.! On June 7, 2005, former Pittsburgh Steeler, Terry Long, drank antifreeze in order to commit suicide. Then, on November 20, 2006, former Philadelphia Eagle, Andre Waters, shot himself in the head. And finally, on June 14, 2007, the results of the autopsy and study of Justin Strzelczyk's brain, another former Pittsburgh Steeler who committed suicide in 2004, were released. The results showed that Strzelczyk's brain had C.T.E. He was the fourth player diagnosed with Omalu's disease! These three events shook the N.F.L. to the core and they went into damage control. Five days later, acting as if they were taking the "initiative", they held what is now known as the, "Concussion Summit". This "summit" was the gathering together of all the leading doctors and scientists involved with brain research. Yet, on the day of the summit, Omalu wasn't allowed to even be in the room! Dr. Bennet Omalu had, in just a few years' time, incurred the personal wrath of the N.F.L. If there was one doctor who wasn't going to be heard or, better put, was "blackballed" by the N.F.L., it was Dr. Bennet Omalu! Consequently, another doctor, Dr. Julian Bailes who was a past Pittsburgh Steelers' team doctor involved with Omalu and his research, presented Omalu's findings. Again, though, the N.F.L. in the post-summit press conference said that they didn't have any proof that there was any connection with head trauma from football causing C.T.E. or any other head trauma disease! The "stone-walling" and denials were in full force by now and the N.F.L. was pulling out all the stops!

Over time, Omalu suffered from the attacks. They wore on him. He even received anonymous calls from crackpots who threatened his life. He was being accused by everyday people, as well as fanatic football fans, of attacking an American institution. The saying used to be, "Baseball, hotdogs and apple pie". Nowadays it's, "Football, hotdogs and apple pie"! Eventually, he got to a point where he regretted the day that Mike Webster ended up on his table! This, coming from a man who loved his job and his work. Finally, Omalu decided to move. He took a job in California as a Pathologist in another Coroner's office. Yet, with the passage of time, players still died and Omalu kept up the fight. You see, as much as Omalu wanted to be an American, he wasn't willing to give in to the American trait of, "You can't fight City Hall". To Omalu, America represented everything that was good about this world. He believed that in emigrating to this country, he could be whomever he wanted to be. He believed that you could change the world. And he also believed in the truth! In a scene from the movie, which Omalu also conveyed in his "Frontline" interview, he described a meeting that he had with one of the doctors from the N.F.L. As the doctor stone-walled and condescended to Omalu about his findings, he finally asked Omalu what he wanted him to do. Omalu told him in his own confident, naive yet, hardheaded way, "Tell the truth! TELL THE TRUTH!" That doctor walked away from that meeting shaking his head because he knew that it will never be about the truth... at least to the N.F.L.!

The Media

Willi Wood Sr.'s Story on Evening News
Nowadays, everyone complains about the media. No matter what side of the political spectrum people are on, they aren't happy with the way the media is doing their job. But, in the case of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, the media has gotten the word out. Most people have heard something about the "concussion" problem that the N.F.L. has. Even if they aren't football fans, they've probably heard something on t.v. about the issue or caught a glimpse of a headline on the front page of the paper. Over the years they've told the story. And now, there is a major motion picture with such huge stars as Will Smith and Alec Baldwin. This... this is what the N.F.L. has been fearing the whole time- the story going viral! The TRUTH getting out!

Although most of the public and the people involved with the sport of football have finally come to believe the work of Dr. Omalu, the N.F.L. itself; it's governing body and the "corporate entity", and the officials of all 32 teams have yet to publicly admit that there is a connection between football and traumatic brain injuries, C.T.E., early onset Alzheimer's disease or any other debilitating brain dysfunction. Remember, the N.F.L. and the teams that it represents are "for-profit", money-making machines. They are built around generating as much revenue as possible, which they can then turn into profits! Football has gone from being a sport that people love to play into an entertainment business that must make a profit, a profit that many people are starting to see is at any cost- even to human life!

With that being said, it's not hard to understand why the N.F.L. has been fighting Omalu's findings, even if it is reprehensible! One of these reasons is the litigation and the fallout from it. If the N.F.L. finally were to admit that they believe in Omalu's findings and everything that goes along with it, they know that it would end up reducing their profits dramatically. The lawsuits, as well as the disability payments to what could end up being 30, 50 maybe, who knows, 90 percent of their retired and injured players would end up in the multi-billion dollar range. The N.F.L., remember, is in the business of making, not losing money or, as they might be thinking these days, giving money away. So far they still, after all the information and all the years that have passed since Omalu published his first paper, refuse to admit that C.T.E. and all other traumatic brain disease in football players is a result of football. Yet, they have been forced into court and made to pay some former players money in compensation but none of them as a result of C.T.E. With the recent court decisions, the N.F.L. has had to change their disability and retirement packages. Unfortunately, even after these court decisions, Mike Webster still would not be eligible to receive a dime in compensation for his disabilities, which everyone else knows, were sustained from football! It comes down to money, even at the expense of human beings.

The other reason the N.F.L. refuses to admit to these issues is
N.F.L.'s Pipeline
because of what it would do to the "pipeline" of future bodies that they might not be able to just use and abuse and discard as their own corporate fodder! As one character in the new movie, "Concussion", states; "If just 10 percent of the parents out there were to forbid their sons to play football, the pipeline of players to the college and pro teams would dry up! Not only that, if the N.F.L. were to disappear, hundreds of thousands of people would be out of jobs" (I've paraphrased that). Wow! If this attitude doesn't send a shiver down your spine, I don't know what will. This callous attitude, stated by an N.F.L. physician, by the way, totally disregards the health of our nation's youth who will end up playing "Russian roulette" with their lives if they are to play! There might be some of you out there who will think how much this callous attitude reminds you of "Big Tobacco" or the "Coal Mining Industry" in their unmitigated pursuit of profits. They had no respect for the people who used their product or worked their mines just as the N.F.L. has no respect or care for the players who earn them their millions!

As I said before, there is no proprietary website that I can find for the N.F.L.'s "Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee" as well as for any of the names that committee has been changed to! The only website that you can go to to even know that the N.F.L. is doing anything about any kind of head injury is the N.F.L.'s own website, but it is a one page, initial information site and there are no links to get into any kind of substance whatsoever! They let you know that they are so very much concerned about their players and they list all the sub-committees, which they have set-up under the committee, whose name they are continuously changing, that is always doing "ongoing, in-depth research into this very troubling problem". Unbelievable! Here is a link to the N.F.L. website that tells you this information; "Health committees plan help to guide N.F.L.'s safety plans" . Over the years, this committee has been know as, "M.T.B.I.", "National Football League concussion committee", "National Football League Head, Neck and Spine Committee" and a couple more names. It seems strange to change the name of this committee as often as the N.F.L. does, suggesting an attempt at confusing people who are trying to follow it. I really can't seem to come to any other conclusion about the changes. Each time they fire or replace a doctor as the chairman, they change the name. It obviously seems like a public relations tactic to help deflect criticism about the lack of seriousness in the committee's research into this problem.

The Rheumatologist 

Dr. Elliot Pellman

One public relation problem they had was with the doctor who they chose to be their initial chairman for the "M.T.B.I. Committee" in 1994. The choice of Dr. Elliot Pellman was a bad one to begin with! Pellman is a Rheumatologist! That's right, a doctor who specializes in arthritis! He doesn't have a second degree in neurology, neurosurgery or even orthopedics! The fact that they chose this man as their leader in the research of this problem goes a long way to showing the lack of interest and the lack of respect that the league has for their players! For years the players have been talking about the feeling of being used, abused and thrown away by the N.F.L. Even the star players are treated this way! Once you can't cut it anymore, you're GONE! Surprisingly, Pellman lasted as chairman until 2007. It was after the N.F.L. finally realized that he wasn't the best choice to run their committee, they forced him to step down. He continued to be a member of the committee but as this was happening, it was slowly coming out that Pellman had lied about some of his credentials. Finally, in 2010, Pellman was fired from the committee completely. When Pellman was forced to step down as chairman, Dr. Ira Casson was elevated to that position. That's right, "Dr. No" became the chairman! He didn't last long, though. The N.F.L. realized just how polarizing an individual he was. Caustic, abrasive and arrogant just wasn't going to cut it anymore as the N.F.L. continued with it's defensive campaign! Casson is no longer a member of the committee. The other divisive doctor, Dr. David Viano, who turns out to be a "bio-mechanics consultant" not a neurologist, was cut loose with Casson (his co-chair), as well. As it stands now, the N.F.L.'s Head, Neck and Spine Committee seems to be in good hands with two neurosurgeons as it's co-chairs, Dr. Hunt Batjer and Dr. Richard G. Ellenbogen.

As the new movie "Concussion" debuts, there have been some changes in how Omalu's findings have finally been received. As is usually the case, as time goes by and evidence mounts, people start to accept the things that they can finally see with their own eyes and hear with their own ears. There have been so many suicides, too many, by former N.F.L. players that individuals have finally come to accept the fact that there is a problem and that Omalu is right. Dave Duerson, the former Chicago Bear who held a position with the N.F.L. after his retirement, committed suicide on February 17, 2011. Duerson was vociferous in his beliefs and arguments against Omalu's findings. Finally, as his life spiraled out of control, he left a suicide note saying that Omalu was right all along!

There may be a truly tragic and ultimately sad outcome to the whole business of "Traumatic Head Trauma" in football in general. Whether the N.F.L. ever admits that it believes that football causes C.T.E., dementia, Alzheimer's or any other brain disease, most of the people out there in the stands watching the game that they love, will continue to pay their money for that seat in the stands. And most will watch that game at home on Sunday afternoon. Why? They love everything about the game. It just might take an act of Congress to do something about the N.F.L.'s intransigence about this issue. Yet, what is so tragic and sad is the fact that no matter what rules the N.F.L. creates to try and protect their players (and they've instituted some lately), no matter how good they try to make the helmets that the players wear, they will never be able to put shock absorbers between the brain and the cranium of their players! They will never be able to stop the shock that the brain receives as it's hit by an opposing player with the force of an automobile going 35 M.P.H.! This situation is so sad because of the fact that this game is so loved by so many millions of people. It's a game that many non-professional players have played, whether it's been in "Pee-Wee" leagues, high school or college. So many of these prior players credit football with making them the men they are today and hold the game in such high regard. It's unfortunate that this game we love so much, has the ability to damage our lives at the cost of it killing us. 

Yet, there might be one thing that ends up saving this game from being such a debilitating game in the long run. Just imagine if Dr. Bennet Omalu was your average, everyday pathologist who just went to work, punched the clock and went home at the end of the day that Mike Webster's body ended up on his autopsy table. "Mike Webster died of a heart attack? Sure, that looks correct. My day's over, time to go home". No one would have ever found out about this Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy disease- at least not for quite a while. Fortunately, that wasn't the case! This incredible man, although they tried to discredit him, has ended up changing the game of football. You can already see the results in the new rule changes, the lawsuits, the new retirement packages and all the research that's being done now about head trauma. Yet, it's through science that we may only be able to save this game that we all love. It won't come through rules changes (although we need them now), or new helmets or any other device. It'll come from science. Who knows, maybe it's a pill or surgery or something else that the scientific community comes up with but they are the answer, the scientists. As Bennet Omalu said to that ridiculous N.F.L. doctor, "Tell the truth", it's only when people are looking for the truth that they finally come up with the answers!