I was really disappointed to read how Dr. Bennet Omalu, the neuropathologist whose identification of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) was depicted in “CBennet Omalu, MDoncussion” (starring Will Smith) irresponsibly remarked that he would bet his medical license that OJ Simpson is suffering from CTE. As the doctor that fought his way for credibility and validity in discovering CTE, how could he make such a remark when CTE diagnosis only occurs post-mortem. What could be the motivation that led him to make that statement? He has never examined Simpson in any setting.
For Dr. Omalu to say that he can identify Simpson’s CTE simply through behavioral symptoms is a damning generalization that can directly and has negatively affected hundreds of thousands of former football players, SO FAR. His statement fuels irrational and unfounded foundations of fear that will have people trying to connect football, CTE and criminal tendencies.
That generalizing and impactful fear is hurting more than just the players. I’m not the only one who sees it. ESPN’s Ryan Clark, a former NFL player and current NFL analyst said on ESPN’s “First Take” on January 29, 2016, “So now when you put [Omalu’s] narrative on OJ, andO.J._Simpson_1990 things that he’s done since football, it’s now affecting society. So [Omalu] feels like this is a way to get other people involved and make them care about this subject: that [CTE] can one day affect you because these football players can fly off the rails because of things that they suffered during their career.
So now when I go to get hired…now do people look at me like, “Will Ryan Clark, someday, because of CTE, do something irresponsible? Will we be able to control him?”
So now when I go to get hired…now do people have to look at me like, ‘Will Ryan Clark, someday, because of CTE, do something irresponsible? Will we be able to control him?’
And on the other side of that, now can every former football player, who decides to make bad decisions, say, ‘You know what? I’m suffering from CTE. Or, this could be from football. So, that’s my defense. That’s my excuse.’”
Clark went on to make the excellent, accurate point that even if we can someday confirm that Simpson was suffering from CTE, there is no way to correlate it to the decisions Simpson has made since he played football. CTE cannot become the easy justification for harmful actions, no matter how easy it may seem to stereotype it into something it may or may not be.
Dr. Omalu’s statement was irresponsible, and outright harmful, because of the way it perpetuates dangerous stereotypes about CTE, and the men and women who suffer from brain injuries.
Dr. Omalu’s statement was irresponsible, and outright harmful, because of the way it perpetuates dangerous stereotypes about CTE, and the men and women who suffer from brain injuries. It is simply unprofessional to create an exit path for people to blame the harmful, hurtful, and cruel actions they commit. Omalu is creating the opposite of a healing environment. CTE is not a death sentence! Yet, any inaccurate, sensational and “weaponized” stereotypes about CTE and brain injuries may very well be a death sentence for those suffering their symptoms. Why? Because these inflammatory stereotypes get used as leverage in hiring and firing decisions, business partnership power plays, divorce proceedings and child custody battles. Allowing fears to run unchecked ruins lives, robs families and children and kills the hope and motivation to live. Facts should not be scary. But facts that are medically proven can lead to treatment paths and positive steps, which helps sufferers and their family members live harmoniously.
CTE and other brain injury symptoms are managed daily by those with the right information and support systems in place. There are many places along the spectrum of brain injury symptoms in which we can interrupt its progression and provide help, assistance, management skills and hope. Let’s start talking about that conversation. Let’s start talking about hope. Let’s enable families to work and grow together with hope and not fear, with facts and not generalizations. There is so much of life to enjoy and no one should feel as if they are a burden or ”the atom bomb” of a family.
A little bit of genuine hope and a reassuring hand can be the help that keeps people from becoming the most deadly stereotype there is.