It’s hardly new, but I thought I would remind our friends interested in health topics that there is a really important movie still lingering out there in theatres. Based on a true story, “Concussion” features Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist who discovers the debilitating effect of constant severe blows to the brains of NFL players.
“You turned on the lights and gave their biggest boogie man a name.”
That’s Alec Baldwin’s character, who plays the role of Dr. Julian Bales and one of Dr. Omalu’s medical teammates. He was the Pittsburgh Steelers team doctor when Mike Webster played. The NFL Hall of Famer was 50 when he was found dead in his pick up truck from a heart attack. Omalu’s autopsy on Webster is considered one of the most significant moments in sports history. Omalu seeks mentorship from Bales when he discovers a possible cause for his death: chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
According to Boston University’s CTE Center, chronic traumatic encephalopathy is:
A progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions, as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head.
Bailes figures Webster had endured close to 100,000 hits to his head during his football career and helps Omahu shed some light on the subject to the NFL, which attempts to suppress his research on the discovery of CTE and brain damage in players. He played the game for 17 seasons, during a time where concussion and it’s long-term effects were not quite understood.
ESPN describes Webster as a “tortured soul” before his untimely death. He was taking a crazy concoction of medications to subdue the general ache he felt. The once unstoppable center could no longer control his own body and had to carry around a bucket to hold the vomit.
The plight that makes this story and movie so interesting is Omahu’s battle against the billion dollar sports and entertainment organization that is the NFL. The movie, inspired by a 2009 article in GQ, is just another reminder of the crisis the NFL is now facing as so many eyes are on them to prevent other players from falling victim to America’s favorite past time.
As health communicators, our medium can extend into movies if that’s what it takes to tell an important story. Such movies are often widely criticized for not being 100 percent factual or accurate, but let’s face it, there are always going to be opinions. For those, like me, who do not have time to read every journal and who does not keep up with football, it was an entertaining and educational few hours of my time to spend on such an important topic.