A Nigerian’s story takes the big screen in Hollywood this December, and this time, its for good.
Movie superstar, Will Smith plays a forensic pathologist and neuropathologist, Benneth Omalu, in a sports drama movie, Concussion. The movie tells the story of a Nigerian, Dr. Omalu who discovered a new disease, which he named Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), in the brains of two NFL players, which later leads them to commit suicide.
Watch Concussion movie trailer starring Will Smith below: (Story continues after the video)
The Inspiring Bennet Omalu
The real life Professor Omalu was born in Nigeria and graduated from the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus Medical College. He practiced medicine in Nigeria for a short time, before leaving for the United States. He is currently a professor in the UC Davis Department of Medical Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in California and chief medical examiner of San Joaquin County, California.
Concussion is based on Omalu’s true story of courage and persistence in the face of surmounting obstacles.
As a young medical examiner in Pittsburgh, Omalu was assigned to perform a routine autopsy on Mike Webster, a decorated retired American football player who died at the age of 50, from a heart attack. Webster had been suffering from dementia, depression, and chronic pain and was living in his pickup truck before he died.
Puzzled by his initial findings, Omalu spent months methodically studying Webster’s brain tissue for months, until he eventually uncovered the ‘new’ disease that afflicted people involved in contact sports like wrestling, boxing, and American football.
Changing The World
Omalu’s groundbreaking work set off a bitter feud between the NFL and its players leading to a national debate on protecting athletes in high-impact sports from brain injuries. The debate inspired other scientists and researchers to develop a sophisticated brain scan that can identify signs of the debilitating disease in NFL players while they are alive.
“Like most advances in the medical sciences, my encounter with CTE was serendipitous,” Omalu said as he reflected on his discovery. “I was only driven by my inkling as a forensic pathologist to search for evidentiary foundations for everything, since coincidence should never be an answer in the investigation of death.”
When asked about how his discovery impacted his life, Omalu replied, “I have been extremely humbled but overwhelmed by the attention that I have received and the advances my innocent work has inspired.
”I was only an inexperienced and young medical examiner who had just completed fellowship training in neuropathology, and I had this laughable, naïve and idealistic intellectual curiosity that has luckily turned out to significantly impact the lives of many,” he said.
In 2008, Omalu published the book, Play Hard, Die Young: Football Dementia, Depression, and Death, with the aim of alerting players, parents, coaches, trainers, and school administrators to the dangers of repeated concussions.“The inherent risk and dangers of permanent brain damage in contact sports are real especially in children,” he wrote. “We must educate ourselves, especially parents, of this risk and the long term effects in later life.”
In 2013, President Barack Obama went on record suggesting that if he had a son, he probably wouldn’t let him play in the NFL. “If I had a son, I’d have to think long and hard before I let him play football,” the US President told the press.
In an interview with PBS, Omalu revealed the depth of his methods and how connected he is with his work. “There is a practice I have. I am a spiritual person. I’m a Catholic. I treat my patients, the dead patients, as live patients. I believe there is life after death. And I talk to my patients. I talk to them, not loudly but quietly in my heart when I look at them. Before I do an autopsy, I must have a visual contact with the face. I do that. I’ll come out of respect; I’ll look at the face.”
He also said of his work on Mike Webster, the one that eventual brought him professional recognition and fame when he discovered and documented the disease, Chronic Traumatic Encephalophathy (CTE).
“I saw he was embalmed. He looked older than his age. And I said to him: ‘Mike, you need to help me. You need to help me. Let’s prove them wrong. You are a victim of football, but you need to help me wherever you are. You need to. I can’t do this by myself. I’m a nobody. But you need to help me. Let’s prove them wrong.'”
Omalu’s impressive professional profile can be viewed on UC Davis Department of Medical Pathology and Laboratory Medicine website.
More Nigerian Connections in Concussion
Concussion is billed for release on Christmas day this year. It is produced Village Roadshow Pictures, Scott Free Productions and The Shuman Company and distributed by Columbia Pictures.
Also in the movie is Nigerian born Hollywood actor, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje who plays Dave Duerson, a decorated NFL player who also suffered from CTE and eventually committed suicide. Another Hollywood actor of Nigerian descent, Eme Ikwuakor plays twenty-eight-year-old Amobi Okoye, a Nigerian NFL player who moved to the United States when he was twelve.