There has long been a faint connection between head injuries obtained when playing football and deterioration of the brain. Dr. Omalu was the first to study the relationship between multiple concussions and brain deterioration.
Early Life and Education
Bennet Omalu was born during the Nigerian Civil War on September 30, 1968. He was the second youngest in his family. His mother was a seamstress and his father was a civil mining engineer. Bennet started in school when he was 3 and progressed into the Federal Government College Enugu. From there he attended medical school at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka where he earned his Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery. He came to the US in search of educational opportunities in 1994, but it wasn't until 2002 in Pittsburgh when he became interested in neuropathology.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)
While working under Cyril Wecth, the forensic consultant at the Allegany County Coroner's Office in Pittsburgh, Omalu encountered a deceased former football player that had died unexpectedly in 2002. The name of this player was Mike Webster, a former Steeler. Webster had experienced years of mental impairments following his retirement from football which led to drug abuse, suicide attempts, and severe depression. Omalu was able to perform an autopsy on Webster's brain where he found large amounts of tau protein within the tissues in the same amount as a 90 year old with Alzheimer's. A few years later, Omalu had determined what had caused Webster's brain to deteriorate. He diagnosed it as a chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE and published his findings about it in the journal Neurosurgery. The paper received harsh criticism from the NFL Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee because they saw it as a threat to their profits. The NFL thought that these findings would ruin professional football. It took 4 years for the NFL to finally accept Omalu's findings as Omalu had found more evidence of this neurodegenerative disease in more deceased football players that had committed suicide.
- The movie Concussion starring Will Smith is based on these events.
- The NFL reached a $750 million settlement with former players that would create a compensation fund for those who needed treatment for CTE.
- CTE has also been diagnosed in ice hockey, wrestling, and boxing. All sports that involve repeated hits to the head.
- In 2013, President Barack Obama announced the creation of the Chronic Effects of Neurotrauma Consortium or CENC, a federally funded research project tasked with addressing the long-term effects of mild traumatic brain injury in military service personnel and veterans
- As of September 2015, CTE has been diagnosed in 96% of NFL players analyzed in postmortem brain studies
- Bo Jackson stated that he would have never played football if he knew the risks of being diagnosed with CTE today.