Dr. Omalu holds eight degrees and has a surfeit of titles, including forensic pathologist, neuropathologist, medical examiner, and professor at the University of California, Davis, in the Department of Medical Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. What he might be best known for is discovering and publishing his findings of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) in the brains of deceased NFL players like Mike Webster, Terry Long, Justin Strzelczyk, Andre Waters, and Dave Duerson.
Born in Nigeria in 1968, Bennet Ifeakandu Omalu has become the most hated and the most beloved forensic physician of all time. He’s not the NFL’s favorite person, but his findings have endeared him to a multitude of former players and their families, in their quest to be proactive against the fallout of living with CTE. Dr. Omalu is a modern-day hero although I doubt he feels like it with the vicious and malicious backlash he has endured from those in power. His faith in God continues to move him forward in speaking the truth, even when it hurts.
MyEliteNetwork: Dr. Omalu, most people who have watched the acclaimed movie Concussion want to know how accurate the movie was in comparison to what really happened. Can you shed some light on that for us?
Dr. Omalu: It was very accurate. Everything in that movie happened in real life. But, as expected, there was some degree of dramatization and creative license. We tried our very best to reproduce the movie to represent what happened. For example, one of my favorite scenes is where Will Smith tells the NFL’s Dr. Maroon, Tell the truth. Tell the truth. That meeting happened in a conference room at a hospital, but the director thought it would be more dramatic to set up the meeting in a restaurant overlooking the Steelers’ stadium. We did not in any way collaborate with the NFL in producing the movie, but if you notice, the movie was not really about sports. The movie was about telling a story about how the impossible can become possible at the intersection of faith and science.
MyEliteNetwork: Tell us a little bit about your first book, Play Hard, Die Young: Football Dementia, Depression, and Death, and why it was important for you to write it.
Dr. Omalu: Play Hard, Die Young was the book I wrote during the darkest times of my journey. I was at my lowest. I had lost my job in Pittsburgh, my wife was pregnant, and my father had called to advise me to be careful because he knew many in the corporate world did not care about God. Most in the corporate community worship the god of money and power. So my father wanted to make sure I was walking in the faith, that I was grounded in the faith and staying open to the spirit of God to lead me.
So for the sake of posterity and numerous retired football players who were suffering in silence and obscurity, and because I had traveled across the country and met many football players and their families, I wanted to put my thoughts and findings in a book format and send a copy to the national archives. I wanted documentation of my story. I was also afraid that others would attempt to rewrite history, the narrative changed to suit their purpose.
MyEliteNetwork: Your newly released book, Truth Doesn’t Have a Side, has received excellent reviews on Amazon, and professional book reviewers. In fact, the President of the publishing company said that he had not seen a better review of any book he has seen. Why do you think your latest work is gaining such positive recognition?
Dr. Omalu: Because I poured out my heart in this book, and there was a reason why I did that. While we were promoting the movie Concussion, I was in New York for one week. The book Concussion had come out and was doing very well, making the New York Times’ Best Seller List. Then one day I woke up early to prepare for an interview. The spirit in me said, there is a problem. Those involved in making the film were so kind; they acknowledged my faith, and they even showed a worship session and the Bible. Hollywood recognized my faith, and I’m very thankful for that.
That very same morning I got a phone call from a man I did not know. He said he was a literary agent and asked if he could meet with me. I said okay, let’s have lunch. He met me at the hotel, and when we settled down for a talk, he said, Look, Bennet, I have watched your interviews. You seem to be a man of deep faith. You’re not a Sunday-to-Sunday Christian. Everything you do you manifest your faith. Am I wrong?” I said, No, that is true. He responded, but that is not reflected in the book Concussion. I looked him squarely in the eyes and said, you know what, this is not a coincidence. It is just what I was thinking about this morning. If I’m a man of faith and I don’t tell it to the world, then that means I am denying my faith and denying my God. And since my faith is indeed true, my life through the spirit of God can touch some other person. Who am I not to make myself available to be a vessel of God’s love? That is why I decided to write the book.
MyEliteNetwork: Truth Doesn’t Have a Side tells about your upbringing yet still speaks to the problem of youth high-impact sports, and why you state the NFL is not the problem. Speak to those points.
Dr. Omalu: The first half of the book tells my personal story, the second half is why I have taken the position that no child under the age of 18 should pay high-impact high-contact sports; that is not a frivolous, irresponsible declaration.
People need to read the book to see how I evolved; not just by science, but by faith, and also by the common humanity we all share together. I think society is beginning to embrace a culture of diminishing the humanity of other people. We need to stop that. Every person, no matter who you are, is worth as much as anyone else on this earth. We are all one body, one spirit, one family, one hope, one joy, and one happiness. So that means if I am in a field watching another human being damage his brain, I’m also culpable because I’m encouraging and inducing another person to dehumanize himself.
We have this tendency to blame the NFL, but as I said in my book, this is not about the NFL. The NFL is a corporation that has every right to exist and is as legitimate as Microsoft, Google, and Amazon. The NFL sells a product, and that product is football. The service they provide with their product is entertainment. The NFL is not in the business of medical research. Nor child protection. Nor law enforcement. So people should stop blaming the NFL. People need to have that in the right perspective. And this is why my new book is about every one of us; about every parent. I strongly encourage parents to buy the book.
In 2017 we have greater access to knowledge and information than in past decades. We handle much larger amounts of information in a shorter period. So knowing what we know today, there is no justifiable reason why a child should engage in high-impact high-contact collision sports. The most recognized sports are American football, ice hockey, mixed martial arts, rugby, boxing, wrestling, lacrosse, and soccer. Children shouldn’t play these games until they are 18. We don’t allow children to join the military until they are 18. Children cannot vote until they are 18. There is a reason for that. Their brain is not fully developed until about 18 years old, actually 18 to 25. So children younger than 18 still do not have intellectual prowess to understand the consequences of what he or she is doing.
In some states, you cannot smoke or drink until you’re 21. So now your 10-year-old son comes to you, Daddy, daddy please may I play football? And then they ask you, Oh daddy, daddy please, may I smoke a cigarette? You say, No, no son. I wouldn’t let you smoke a cigarette. But you put a helmet on his head, and send him to a field to play a game whereby in every play his head receives blows. There is no safe blow to the human head. With multiple blows, your child suffers sub-concussions and concussions. A concussion is brain damage. People need to know that.
So I ask you, which is more dangerous? A cigarette or a concussion of the brain? When you stop smoking, after about ten years, your risk of cancer significantly drops. But when you suffer a concussion, it’s permanent. There’s no cure for it. So by letting our kids play high-impact contact sports, we are personally causing harm to our children. There are so many non-contact sports that kids can play: swimming, track, and field, volleyball, basketball, table tennis, lawn tennis, badminton. Of course in the non-contact sports, accidents may occur once in a while but the accidents are not intrinsic to the play.
MyEliteNetwork: With all the helmet technology on the market now, you’re saying no helmet, no matter how good, can protect the brain?
Dr. Omalu: That’s correct, and parents need to know that. The helmet industry will be the first to tell you that. I’ve had multiple conversations with the helmet industry, and they don’t deny it. I received an email that said, Oh we love this high- tech, intelligent helmet. We want you to endorse it. I asked, What does it do? The person responded, Oh, it will tell you when you suffer a concussion. Isn’t that dumb? A helmet tells you after you’ve suffered a concussion! At that point, the damage has been done. So what it says is, oh you’ve suffered brain damage. God has given us the ability to think, and in a free society like America, we must think freely and intelligently.
MyEliteNetwork: You never said that the NFL killed Mike Webster, you said playing football killed Mike Webster. Your plea was for the NFL to just tell the truth. Share your thoughts.
Dr. Omalu: I don’t attack the NFL, and that is why I don’t understand why they hate me so much. I don’t get it. Allow me to illustrate the point with a story:
I bought a Tesla a few weeks ago. When I ordered my car, I walked into the office, and they told me that the majority of new customers drive either a Mercedes Benz, BMW, or Volvo. I’ve driven a Mercedes Benz since becoming a physician. The sales person at Tesla shared the Tesla story about Elon Musk. My advice to the NFL is to look at the model of Tesla. Elon Musk recognized the truth for what it is. Truth does not have a side. There is only one truth. There is no alternative truth. The truth can be inconvenient. It can be difficult. It can be painful. But you do not deny the truth because of its pain, difficulty or inconvenience. Come what may, the truth will always prevail, and although it may take a long time to come, when it does prevail, if you’re not on the side of the truth, you are a loser. The good thing about the truth is that it is vindicating. The truth is emboldening; it is enlightening, it is empowering.
Elon Musk embraced the truth and corporations laughed at him, ridiculed him. How can you make a battery powered car? That is not feasible. But he kept the faith. Today, guess who is laughing? Elon Musk and his Tesla. I guarantee you in another five, ten years; Tesla will become the dominant car on the road. The automobile industry and companies are now chasing after him.
And that is my advice to the NFL. If the NFL continues to deny the truth that football does not cause any brain damage, the longtime sustainability of football will be in doubt. Just come out and say that playing football exposes you to repeated blows to your head, which is potentially dangerous. Seek the truth. Embrace the truth. And the truth will set you free. The truth will liberate you. The truth will empower you.
MyEliteNetwork: Yes, it’s the rebels who change the world. The rebels who stand up for the truth. How does the NFL respond to your message now, in 2017? Do they hate you more now, and does that bother you?
Dr. Omalu: I think there’s a reason why God said we must always forgive our neighbor. Hatred is a very negative, self-destructive emotion. And I think the NFL should let go of the past and whatever they think I have done to them; they should forgive me. Since 2002 the NFL has never reached out to me. Never. I say to them, forgive and move on.
MyEliteNetwork: What kind of feedback have you received from former players and families?
Dr. Omalu: Former players, they want their money from the concussion settlement. I got an email from a very prominent retired player, and it was extremely positive. But now, some of the retired players’ families have been fed garbage about me by some doctors who do not mean well. In fact, my fellow doctors, including the National Institute of Health, have treated me worse than the NFL has treated me.
MyEliteNetwork: Why do you think that is?
Dr. Omalu: I wish I knew, but I don’t pay attention to it, to be honest with you. If I pay attention to it, then that means I’m not placing my faith in God. Anybody who knows me knows that Bennet Omalu is Bennet Omalu, period. Nothing else. In fact, I regret meeting Mike Webster. I’ve said it many times. Because the Mike Webster autopsy robbed me of that simple life, I aspired to lead here in America. It took my life away from me. It really did.
Everything I have done has been out of love. I did not do this to self-aggrandize myself. I don’t need it. I did not do this to place myself on any pedestal, and I think people see the sincerity in my heart and my word.
MyEliteNetwork: My final question to you today, Dr. Omalu, is why do science and faith need to kiss each other?
Dr. Omalu: Science speaks the truth. In science, the more you discover, the more you realize what you do not know, and you keep on searching. There is no end to the trip. Faith is the realization, manifestation, and evidence of things we don’t know regarding the Spirit. Science and faith have a common end point, a common outcome: the truth. We don’t have all the answers in faith just like we don’t have all the answers in science. But because faith is something less tangible, we don’t give faith the same benefit of the doubt that we give to science. Faith and science are not antagonistic; they are synergistic. Faith and science are one. And that is what has empowered me because I have amalgamated my faith and science.
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