CTE Awareness Goes Hollywood

Did you see “Concussion?”  Actor Will Smith portrayed forensic neuropathologist Dr. Bennett Omalu in the movie which hit the theatres in late December, raising CTE awareness to new Hollywood heights.  It tells the story of Dr. Omalu, and how through science and interviewing family members, he discovered a disease that hadn’t been recognized before in an American football player, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy aka CTE.

The movie ultimately reveals the potential destiny of the famed men of the gridiron whose talent for the game is revered by fans across the nation. The sobering truth is that these professional athletes are at risk for developing CTE through playing the game they love, and for which they have trained their bodies and minds to achieve peak performance.

It all started when Mike Webster, a 1997 Pro Football Hall of Fame Inductee, arrived on Dr. Omalu’s autopsy table at age 50. He had played for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs.  His files indicated that he died of a heart attack, and news reports told of bizarre personal behavior in recent years.  The latter got the doctor thinking that Mike may have had a brain disorder, as he worked his way through possible diagnoses: post traumatic encephalopathy, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia pugilistica  (known as punch drunk syndrome in boxers), and schizophrenia.

When Dr. Omalu examined his brain, he was shocked at how it did not have any visible damage.  Further examination under the microscope revealed abnormal accumulations and topographical patterns of tau and amyloid proteins.  This was different than other neurodegenerative diseases, and consultation with other doctors confirmed that these findings were unique. It was determined that repetitive hits had changed this player’s brain.

The theatre release of “Concussion” came on the heels of a significant amount of online football-related chatter and headline news about the concussions, and recently deceased football players diagnosed with CTE. The importance of the film to CTE awareness is that it makes this disease understandable for fans and the public at large, and prompts discussion of how to make football safer for both our youth and professionals to play.

Did you already see the film? Was there a powerful moment that stuck with you? Share below in the comments section.