When it comes to the NFL’s hypersensitivity to brain health over the past decade, Dr. Bennet Omalu gets most of the credit for sparking the change. Based on a new article in the Washington Post, however, Omalu has a far different reputation among those whose work focuses on brain science.
As explained by Will Hobson of the Post, brain researchers have reached a “wide consensus” that Omalu “routinely exaggerates his accomplishments and dramatically overstates the known risks of CTE and contact sports, fueling misconceptions about the disease.” Hobson bases that conclusion on interviews with more than 50 experts in the field, and on a review of more than 100 papers from medical journals.
Omalu has claimed credit for both the discovery and the naming of Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy, or CTE. He didn’t discover it nor name it, however. And there are questions among researchers as to whether Omalu correctly diagnoses the condition, including in his seminal paper concluding that the late Mike Webster had CTE.
“His criteria don’t make sense to me,” said Dr. Ann McKee, one of the leading experts in the CTE field. “I don’t know what he’s doing. . . . My God, if people were actually following [Omalu’s] criteria, the prevalence of this disease would be enormous, and there’s absolutely no evidence to support that.”
Omalu, as Hobson explains, responds to criticism by accusing detractors of having financial motivations. Omalu, however, has a clear dollars-and-cents reason for saying what he says and doing what he does. Per the report, Omalu charges a minimum of $10,000 to serve as an expert witness in CTE litigation. Likewise, he charges $27,500 per appearance as a public speaker.
Just last month, a federal judge in California found testimony linking CTE from youth football to behavior years later that resulted in death to be “unreliable.”
None of this changes the fact that the NFL has developed an unprecedented desire and urgency to promote brain safety. However, it appears that the time has come to stop regarding Omalu’s views on the subject as dispositive. Indeed, based on Hobson’s article, Omalu has apparently become irrelevant.