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Subspecialties Forensics, Profession, Neurology

Coming to a Cinema Near You…

We’ve made it one of our missions to highlight and tackle (pun intended) the low public perception of pathology, the damaging consequences of poor awareness (or complete lack thereof), and the urgent need for positive promotion of the field. So when I learned of a new movie that features Hollywood A-lister Will Smith as a pathologist, I thought: Bingo!

The story of Bennet Omalu, a man who battled against the odds in a quest for a diagnostic breakthrough, clearly caught the eye of the film star. What were those “odds”? Well, just the might of the most powerful and lucrative sports league in the world. The untimely death of 50-year-old, former National Football League (NFL) player Mike Webster – and the autopsy performed by Omalu – led to the discovery of a new condition: chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which he linked directly to the trauma induced by the sport. Not a typical day in the office; the autopsy changed the course of Omalu’s life.

Unsurprisingly, his research came under intense criticism from the NFL, which accused him of fraud – the first of many attempts by the sporting body to discredit and quieten the doctor. And it didn’t stop there. In a 2013 interview with FRONTLINE, Omalu stated he had been accused of attacking the “American way of life” (1). His Nigerian heritage featured quite heavily in the abuse that he received from angry sports fans. Undeterred, Omalu continued his research and uncovered many similar cases. Unable to fight the evidence any longer, the NFL finally relented, stating in federal court documents that it expects nearly one in three retired NFL players to develop long-term cognitive problems at “notably younger ages” than the general population (2).

Even President Obama has openly admitted that, if he had a son, he would not let the boy play football (3). Now that’s a result! The determination of one pathologist has shaken neuroscience and sports medicine – and demonstrated the true value of pathology.

Titled “Concussion”, the film will hit cinema screens towards the end of 2015. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be eager to see how Smith portrays the inspirational and tenacious pathologist. But I’m even more interested to find out how the whole field can benefit from Concussion...

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  1. FRONTLINE, “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis”, an interview with Dr Bennet Omalu, accessed October 6, 2015 at to.pbs.org/1SJhQFs.
  2. New York Times, "Brain trauma to affect one in three players, NFL agrees”. Accessed October 6, 2015 at nyti.ms/1m19KbI.
  3. The Washington Post, “Will Smith to play Bennet Omalu, who changed the way we think about football”. Accessed October 6, 2015 at wapo.st/1JPR97a.
About the Author
Fedra Pavlou

After graduating with a pharmacology degree, I began my career in scientific publishing and communications. Now with more than 16 years of experience in this field, my career has seen me heading up editorial and writing teams at Datamonitor, Advanstar and KnowledgePoint360 group. My past experiences have taught me something very important – that you have to enjoy working with, and have respect for your colleagues. It’s this that drew me to Texere where I now work with old colleagues and new. Though we are a hugely diverse team, we share several things in common – a real desire to work hard to succeed, to be the best at what we do, never to settle for second best, and to have fun while we do it. I am now honored to serve as Editor of The Pathologist and Editorial Director of Texere Publishing.

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