Jeanne Marie Laskas first met the young forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu in 2009, while reporting a story for GQ—a story that would go on to inspire the major motion picture Concussion. Omalu told her about a day in September 2002, where, in a dingy morgue in downtown Pittsburgh, he picked up a scalpel and made a discovery that would rattle America in ways he’d never intended. Omalu was new to America, chasing the dream, a deeply spiritual man escaping the wounds of civil war in Nigeria. The body on the slab in front of him belonged to a fifty-year-old named Mike Webster, aka “Iron Mike,” a Hall of Fame center for the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of the greatest ever to play the game. After retiring in 1990, Webster had suffered a dizzyingly steep decline. Toward the end of his life, he was living out of his van, tasering himself to relieve his chronic pain, and fixing his rotting teeth with Super Glue. How did this happen?, Omalu asked himself. How did a young man like Mike Webster end up like this? The search for answers would change Omalu’s life forever and put him in the crosshairs of one of the most powerful corporations in America: the National Football League. What Omalu discovered in Mike Webster’s brain—proof that Iron Mike’s mental deterioration was no accident but a disease caused by relentless blows to the head that could affect everyone playing the game—was the one truth the NFL would do anything to keep secret.
Taut, gripping, and gorgeously told, Concussion is the stirring true story of one unlikely man’s courageous decision to stand up to a multibillion-dollar colossus bent on silencing him, and to tell the world the truth.
Praise for Concussion
“A gripping medical mystery and a dazzling portrait of the young scientist no one wanted to listen to . . . a fabulous, essential read.”—Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
“The story of Dr. Bennet Omalu’s battle against the NFL is classic David and Goliath stuff, and Jeanne Marie Laskas—one of my favorite writers on earth—makes it as exciting as any great courtroom or gridiron drama. A riveting, powerful human tale—and a master class on how to tell a story.”—Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit
“Bennet Omalu forced football to reckon with head trauma. The NFL doesn’t want you to hear his story, but Jeanne Marie Laskas makes it unforgettable. This book is gripping, eye-opening, and full of heart.”—Emily Bazelon, author of Sticks and Stones
COMING CHRISTMAS DAY 2015: The Movie
Meet Bennet Omalu:
Bennet at the age of seven years old in a picture that was taken at his family home, 6 Lugard Crescent, G.R.A., Enugu, Nigeria on his way to mass on a Sunday morning. Right from childhood Bennet has always paid attention to the way he dressed.
Look at that proud smile. Bennet in the autopsy room at the end of a long day of performing six autopsies. He took the pose after he had completed the last autopsy, which was a very complicated homicide, but hey he completed it, provided his cause of death, it is about 6:00 P.M. in the evening, and it is now time to go home to his lovely family, spend some quality family time, relax and enjoy his straight shot of Johnie Walker Blue. Bennet has a taste for the finest cognacs and scotch whiskey.
A gross autopsy photograph of the right side of the formalin-fixed whole brain of the second case of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy [CTE] in a football player that was ever diagnosed, and was diagnosed by Dr. Omalu. Since no one believed in what he was doing and the concept he was proposing about CTE, he performed the examinations of these brains by himself and took this picture himself. Today CTE is widely accepted and has become common knowledge. As the picture shows, the brain looked grossly normal, but on the microscopic cellular level, the brain look very abnormal. This is why conventional CT scans and MRI scans of sufferers of CTE may appear completely normal.
A cut coronal section of the same brain above at the level of the hippocampus showing that the brain appeared completely normal by naked eye examination without the typical findings expected of a demented and degenerated brain. The normal appearing brain, however, did not fool Dr. Omalu. He persisted and went further to perform a broad variety of tissue analyses in spite of the brain appearing normal. There was simply no need at that time to perform the analyses he performed and paid for with his own personal money. The outcome was good for all.
Bennet got back from work one day and found a delivery package at his condominium where he lived with his newly wed wife Prema. At this time, he had been ostracized by the scientific community, the NFL and county medical examiner where he worked, for claiming that he discovered a disease he called CTE. He lost his job, but he obtained consents from families of his CTE cases, took possesion of the brain samples and took them home to a closet in his condominium so that he could preserve these brains, otherwise the county medical examiner had planned to destroy and cremate the brain samples. In his intense focus, he grabbed the sample he had received at his home immediately he got home, took the sample to his balcony, still in his formal work clothes, and went to work to examine the tissues, process them and submit them to the tissue laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh. While he worked so intensely and oblivious of his surroundings, his wife sneaked up on him and took this picture without him even knowing that the picture was taken. He found out about these pictures several years later when his wife showed them to him. Bennet believes that taking these pictures like Pema did on many occasions was very valuable strategic thinking on Prema’s part.
This was one of the tissue specimen containers containing autopsy stock samples of brains of deceased professional athletes that Bennet received at his condominium in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At the time of the autopsies, months to years prior, there was never any suspicion of any disease like CTE so the pathologists who performed the autopsies did not realize that these athletes may have committed suicide, in part, due to a disease called CTE. Families requested that Dr. Omalu performed tissue analyses on archival autopsy tissue samples of the brains of their deceased family members. It was an extremely difficult and emotional experience for Dr. Omalu.
Bennet is a very good family man. His top priority in his life is his family. He makes sure he takes his family to a vacation twice a year, one during spring break and one during summer break. Here was in the spring of 2014 when he took his family to Laguna Beach, California. In the picture Bennet is seen with his wife Prema, his daughter Ashly and his son Mark. They are on a yacht whale watching in the pacific ocean.
Bennet’s father, John Donatus Amaechi Omalu died on May 5, 2014. He died at the ripe age of 91 years old. His father was a guiding light in Bennet’s life. He loved him so dearly. His father was a highly accomplished man and leader in his village and he received a very high profile funeral in the village that was like a State Funeral. Thousands of people from all over Nigeria came to pay their last respects to him for he was such an honest and empathic man. In the picture is a big poster of Bennet’s father in front of the family compound in the village during the funeral.
Bennet and some of his brothers and sisters praying fervently during one of the ceremonies at the village that preceded the funeral mass for their father. All the family members dressed in white funeral regalia, which their father had requested on the last day of his life. He had said that his funeral should be a celebration of a life well-lived and not a mourning. And indeed it was a big celebration and thanksgiving for a life well-lived.
Read Dr. Bennet Omalu’s original scientific articles:
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in a National Football League Player: Part I (PDF)
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in a National Football League Player: Part II (PDF)
The People V Football (PDF)
Read Jeanne Marie Laskas’ article: