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So, Whaddya Think? “Concussion” Now in Theaters

So, Whaddya Think?

“Concussion” Now in Theaters


David Figurski and Donna O’Donnell Figurski


(Note: This is our second opinion essay about Dr. Bennet Omalu and his research with brain trauma. The first was published on this blog on December 17th.)

So Whaddya Think Brain th-4The much-anticipated movie, Concussion (trailer), is making current and former players of American football, their families, parents, fans, and coaches think about what is really happening in a sport that has become a large part of American culture. The movie has the same goal as we in the brain-injury community have – greater awareness of the delicate Concussion Movie 2.jpgnature of the brain and the ramifications of brain damage. The movie was released on Christmas Day, but it has made much news before its release.

The movie, which unsurprisingly is not sanctioned by the National Football League (NFL), tells the true story of the Nigerian pathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu, and his discovery of the relationship of a neurodegenerative disease, which Dr. Omalu named “chronic traumatic encephalopathy” (CTE), and American football. Dr. Omalu studied the brain of Hall-of-Fame center, Mike Webster,


Mike Webster – Pittsburgh Steeler Pro Football Hall of Fame

who died at age 50 homeless and with dementia. As shown in the Frontline documentary, League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis (available free online), the movie shows how the multibillion-dollar NFL didn’t want to hear of Dr. Omalu’s discovery. The league’s questionable committee on concussions immediately attacked Dr. Omalu. It is a classic “David-vs.-Goliath” story.

David & Goliath.jpg

David & Goliath

(Dr. Omalu said in his Frontline interview, “You can’t go against the NFL. They’ll squash you.”) Former players have sued the NFL, arguing that the NFL knew of the dangers to the brain, but didn’t inform the players. In a class-action lawsuit, the NFL has recently settled for approximately $1 billion in medical expenses, but that settlement is being appealed by former players as inadequate.

Concussion Movie

Dr. Bennet Omalu – pathologist – discovered CTE with Actor, Will Smith

Will Smith plays Dr. Omalu in Concussion. Will Smith, a former football fan whose son played high school football, recently admitted that he has not watched a full game of football since he made this movie. Peter Landesman, the movie’s director, played football into his sophomore year of college, but, knowing what he knows now, he would not let his children play the game.

The movie is a “must-see.” (video)


So, Whaddya Think?

Let’s get a dialogue going. Post your comments in the Comment Section. Directions are below.

So . . . what do you think? Is there something you are passionate about in this Brain Injury (BI) world? Do you want to be heard? Your opinion matters! You can SPEAK OUT! on “So Whaddya Think?”

Simply send me your opinion, and I will format it for publication. Posts may be short, but please send no more than 500 words. Send to Neelyf@aol.com

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(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

SPEAK OUT! NewsBit . . . . . . Frank Gifford’s Brain Showed CTE

Frank Gifford’s Brain Showed CTE



Donna O’Donnell Figurski


newsboy-thFrank Gifford died at 84 of natural causes. Because he had always been concerned with player safety and helped to found the National Football League Players Association, his family donated his brain to science for study.

Frank Gifford, a beloved running back in the 1950s and 1960s, played for the New York Giants of the National Football League.  He was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and after he retired, he became a popular and an award-winning sportscaster for Monday Night Football.  Even though Gifford showed no outward signs of neurodegenerative disease, his family said in a released Frank Gifford footballstatement that he experienced symptoms. As a running back, Gifford endured many sub-concussive hits, which many neurologists now believe contribute to neurodegenerative disease. In 1960, Gifford was knocked unconscious by a brutally hard tackle.  That concussion caused the end of his season, and he did not play the next year.

The study of Frank Gifford’s brain revealed that he had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disease found in the autopsied brains of people who played contact sports. So far, 88 of 92 brains of professional players of American football have shown CTE (1, 2). Gifford’s brain makes that statistic 89 of 93.

What makes Frank Gifford’s brain special is that Gifford died of natural causes. The other players whose brains tested positive Frank Giffordfor CTE showed symptoms of brain disease. (In fact, some of the deaths were from suicide.) The claim has been made that the group that was almost entirely positive for CTE was biased. But Dr. Ann McKee, a neuropathologist at Boston University’s CTE Center and the person who studied most of the brains, pointed out that, even in a biased sample, the number of brains testing positive for CTE is ridiculously high. Frank Gifford’s brain would not be considered part of the biased sample. (Gifford showed no outward signs of brain disease.) Yet Frank Gifford’s brain tested positive for CTE. This latest result is consistent with Dr. McKee’s worry that CTE is common among players of American football. (Full story)


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Brain Injury Resources . . . . . . Will Smith’s Movie, Concussion, Based on True Story

Will Smith’s Movie, Concussion, Based on True Story 



Donna O’Donnell Figurski

Brain th-2Concussion is scheduled to be in theaters in late December, but it is already making headlines (review and trailer). The National Football League (NFL) knows that its Achilles heel is the high risk of brain injury to its players, not only from documented concussions, which are likely to be far fewer in number than actual concussions, but also from the repeated sub-concussive hits, which many neurologists believe contribute to brain injury. Former players are concerned (video of the song Final Drive by former NFL star Kyle Turley), and current players are becoming concerned. Recently a promising rookie linebacker with the San Francisco 49ers quit after one season over the fear of brain injury.



Concussion is based on the true story of the discovery of the brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) by Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian pathologist who did the autopsy of Hall-of-Fame Pittsburgh Steelers center, Mike Webster. Dr. Omalu first saw CTE during his study of Webster’s brain. Webster was homeless, depressed, and suffering from dementia when he died at age 50. Dr. Omalu’s story, which is the basis of Concussion, is given in the PBS Frontline documentary League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis. I urge everyone to watch the documentary before seeing Concussion. The 2-hour PBS documentary is available online at no cost. In Concussion, Will Smith plays Dr. Omalu.

Omalu & Smith

Dr. Bennet Omalu & Will Smith

This movie may change what you think about American football and the NFL. Knowing that brain disease is a major problem for the future of the game, the NFL tried to discredit Dr. Omalu and his provocative work. The NFL had previously established a questionable committee of doctors to study mild traumatic brain injuries (MTBIs), otherwise known as concussions. The NFL committee published papers claiming that MTBIs, even multiple MTBIs, were not a problem for players. (The conclusions are contradicted by current data. Also, some scientists question the validity of the published studies.)

NFL LogoDr. Omalu thought that the NFL would be very interested in his data. Instead, the NFL’s MTBI committee immediately attacked Dr. Omalu and his findings. At one point, the committee tried to get Dr. Omalu to retract the paper. Going against the multibillion dollar NFL has a steep price. Dr. Omalu has stated that he wishes he had never discovered CTE.

To date, CTE has been found in 88 of 92 autopsied NFL brains (1, 2). The currently accepted way that CTE is identified is by studying the brain postmortem. The major criticism of the postmortem analyses that were done is that the brains came from former players who already showed signs of brain disease. In other words, the claim is that the sample is biased. Dr. Ann McKee, a neuropathologist at Boston University’s CTE Center, studied most of the brains. She argues that the results would be extraordinary even in a biased sample.


Dr. Ann McKee – neurolpathologist at Boston University

With a recent advance in technology, it seems that the bias criticism can soon be put to rest. Dr. Omalu is an author on a recent publication, in which neuroscientists from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and from the University of Chicago showed that CTE can be accurately diagnosed in a living person by a special PET (positron emission tomography) scan. If such scans were taken of all the current players, we would know if CTE is rare among players, as the NFL would like players and fans to believe, or if it’s relatively common, as Dr. Ann McKee believes.

Until that happens, we are left to decide about the risk of brain disease in players of American football on the basis of what we know. Concussion tells the little-known story of Dr. Omalu and the discovery of CTE. With this movie, we will be more informed and better able to evaluate the risk.


Dr. Bennet Omalu – pathologist

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