“Repetitive head trauma chokes the brain.”
So says Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist at the heart of the film Concussion, played by Golden Globe-nominated actor Will Smith. Omalu’s journey to discovering CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, began in 2002 while performing an autopsy on former Pittsburgh Steeler football player Mike Webster, who died at the age of 50. Post-NFL retirement, Webster suffered from amnesia, dementia, depression, and other unexplained cognitive and emotional difficulties. In his study of Webster’s brain, Omalu found large amounts of tau protein, a substance associated with neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Over the new few years Omalu uncovered the same pattern in the brains of four other deceased former football players, and pushed for the National Football League to recognize the connection between concussions, traumatic brain injury, and degenerative brain disease. The league pushed back, and an NFL concussion movie was born.
CTE, TBI, and the NFL: Concussion has given these acronyms significant cultural buzz, which heartens long-time brain injury research advocates like Anne McDonnell, executive director of the Brain Injury Association. Says McDonnell, “I didn’t need to see the movie to know it would be divisive. Nor do I need to see it to know people will have questions. How many concussions is too many? Are my risks of Alzheimer’s and dementia higher because I played football or soccer, or fell off my bike or skateboard a lot?”
While the link between traumatic brain injury and chronic traumatic encephalopathy has been illuminated by Omalu’s work, the risk to those who aren’t professional athletes is still unclear. As McDonell wonders, how many tumbles down the stairs or little league football hits does a child have take before significant brain injury concussion results? And how often do those events have to occur before CTE appears?
Concussion has started what we hope will be an ongoing conversation about the long-term consequences of traumatic brain injury in both the professional athletic community and our culture at large. We understand that the ramifications of TBI can be both lifelong and severe, and we welcome the opportunity to be a part of the dialogue surrounding how we protect and rehabilitate victims of TBI.
If you or someone you love has suffered from TBI because of an accident or sports injury, please call attorney Jeff Badgley today at our Orlando office at (407) 781-0420 for a free, no-obligation consultation.