Will Smith’s ‘Concussion’ Gives The NFL A Headache, But Does It ‘Tell The Truth’?

Will Smith’s character in his movie Concussion repeatedly demands that foes tell the truth, but questions are being raised about the truthfulness or exaggeration of the events in the film about the NFL whistleblower.

Smith portrays Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist credited with discovering chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a repetitive brain trauma disease that is devastating professional football players with post-career dementia, depression, substance abuse, and violent behavior.

In the film, Omalu makes a connection between football players’ head injuries and the impact on their lives because of them, the Inquisitr previously explained.

Concussion opened in theaters on Christmas Day.

The family of recently deceased ex-NFL star, and long-time network sportscaster, Frank Gifford, Kathie Lee Gifford’s husband, indicated that he suffered from CTE, for example.

While Hollywood typically takes artistic license in films based on real events, many would agree that the NFL tried to bury its head, as it were, in the sand or perhaps punted about the scope of the CTE crisis among its retired players.

That being acknowledged, Daniel Flynn at Breitbart News claims that several key incidents depicted in the film never happened. Moreover, he argues that Omalu in real life is the opposite of Smith’s portrayal of him “as a sober, serious doctor in a lab coat rather than a flashy and flamboyant capitalist wearing Italian suits.”

Whether the NFL actually tried to spike Omalu’s research is apparently another issue, according to Flynn.

“Inherent within the plot lies an irreconcilable contradiction. In Concussion, the NFL torments Bennet Omalu and attempts to suppress his research. In real life, the NFL, or at least a scholarly publication repeatedly lambasted as the ‘The Official Medical Journal of the National Football League,’ ran Omalu’s initial study that announced finding CTE in the brain of a deceased player (Mike Webster).”

Omalu’s discovery of CTE as a new disease while he worked in the Allegheny County Coroner’s office is also in dispute, AP sports writer Jimmy Golen writes.

[The discovery is] a claim the real-life doctor portrayed by Smith, forensic pathologist Bennet Omalu, has himself made for years, giving a detailed description about how he came to name that disease ‘chronic traumatic encephalopathy.’ But Omalu neither discovered the disease nor named it, according to scientific journals and brain researchers interviewed by The Associated Press. And though no one doubts that Omalu’s diagnosis of Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster was pivotal in understanding football’s dangers, fellow researchers say Omalu goes too far when he publicly takes credit for naming or discovering CTE.”

According to the Boston University CTE Center, CTE has been known to affect addled boxers since the 1920s, who were referred to as “punch drunk.”

In an Op-Ed on the CNN website, Omalu insisted that no such disease existed when he performed the autopsy on ex-Pittsburgh Steeler Webster and then went on to publish his findings.

“I went home and began a very comprehensive and extensive literature review to see if this observation had been published before in an American football player. I was utterly surprised that it had not. Not a single paper had been published describing what I had observed in Webster’s brain. None whatsoever. I honestly could not, and did not believe it. It was simply impossible. Yes, much had been published on boxers, (the ‘punch drunk’ condition known as dementia pugilistica) but nothing had been written on any American football player.”

In a recent appearance on Boston sports radio station WEEI on the Dennis & Callahan show, Chris Nowinski — who co-founded the Boston University CTE Center — admitted that he has no plans to see Concussion and gave his take on Dr. Omalu.

The author of Head Games, Nowinski, who suffered a serious concussion while he was a pro wrestler, played football at Harvard and had a brief career in the WWE after appearing as a contestant on Tough Enough.

“For a brief minute, I collaborated with Dr. Omalu, and then chose to move over to Boston University. He made a very important discovery. He’s got a complicated personality. Even early on — I know there’s an article in the Associated Press on Friday talking about how he’s taking credit for discovering and naming the disease when obviously anyone who has Google can find that it was discovered and named decades prior. That sort of stuff was happening in 2007. So, what I realized was, if I’m going to invest in someone to find a treatment for me, the person can’t necessarily be one who’s going to outright lie about discovering the disease, because then who’s going to believe them about anything else?

“It’s an incredibly unethical thing to do and to say. It’s also just so bizarre, because you and I can look at the studies called ‘Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in Boxers’ that were published [years earlier]. So it’s just so bizarre that we just have to go, ‘OK, let’s go out and do the science.'”

Nowinski admitted, however, that Omalu’s diagnosis was accurate and that the NFL at the time tried to get the Neurosurgery medical journal to retract the findings.

In a statement, Sony Pictures indicated that it was standing behind Dr. Omalu’s CTE work that others are allegedly trying to undermine.

“What is beyond dispute is that Dr. Omalu’s discovery shined a light on a reality that the NFL ignored for too long and continues to play out every Sunday.”

Dr. Bennet Omalu is now chief medical examiner of San Joaquin County, California, and a professor of pathology at the University of California, Davis.

[Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP]