CTE Insight from the Bostonia: but take time to remember the real pioneer

Shortly before this blog began in September of 2010 there was a brilliant article written in Bostonia regarding the work that Boston University was doing.  This article did not fall into my lap until yesterday during the Junior Seau reporting, it was found tweeted out by none other than Will Carroll, @injuryexpert.

We have come to understand a bit more about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) though the work of those in Boston.  It would be an absolute shame to not mention the person who first found this brain issue, Dr. Bennet Omalu.  Dr. Omalu found it but then was unceremoniously pushed aside by many forces.  I even had the chance to interview Dr. Cantu and asked him about Dr. Omalu and his response was quick and to the point – said as if shameful; “I don’t want to talk about that subject.”  If you care to understand more about Dr. Omalu you can look back through these archives or go to Irv Muchnick’s site and see why even though he discovered CTE he is not a hero in the public’s eyes – he should be.

Back to the article in the Bostonia and Caleb Daniloff, there is a great description of the CTE as well as what is being accomplished, however the most interesting information is how the NFL and others reacted to this news;

In early October 2009, as BU’s School of Medicine was gearing up to host a conference on athletes and concussion at Gillette Stadium, in Foxboro, Mass., home of the New England Patriots, the results of a long-touted study commis­sioned by the NFL had leaked to the media. The research showed the prevalence of dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other memory-related diseases among retired players to be as much as 19 times higher than in the general U.S. male population. The league claimed the study was incomplete. Fur­ther findings, it said, would be needed.

“They had a very bizarre reaction,” Nowinski says. “They paid for the study, yet they tried to distance themselves from it. But you understand their position. The guys who commissioned the study are probably not the same guys who had to react to it.”

The study, conducted by the University of Michigan, helped prompt the House Judiciary Committee, headed by Michigan Democrat John Conyers, to order the first of several hearings on the subject. At the end of October 2009, Nowinski, Cantu, and McKee testified, along with dozens of other researchers, doctors, players, players’ wives and widows, league executives, and players’ union officials.

“There were a lot of ex–football players there,” McKee recalls. “The older ones reminded you of a neurology clinic. It was very sobering. You got the sense that this was mainstream.”

Stern believes that even as some in the NFL expressed doubts, Goodell and a few other league leaders had grasped the scope of the concussion problem before the hearings. In 2007, a year after Goodell took over, the league had estab­lished a fund for retired players strug­gling with dementia.

“Unfortunately, things were moving too fast and Goodell was made to look like a villain, when, in fact, he wasn’t,” Stern says. “He was stuck with having to deal with people who were still in important positions within the NFL, people who were the old guard. He wasn’t just going to undo things until he learned more.”

In November 2009, Goodell, in Boston for an owners’ meeting, asked Cantu to swing by for a private get-together. They talked for 90 minutes about ways to move the league forward on the concussion issue. Cantu stressed the impor­tance of education at the USA Football level and of shutting down the MTBI Committee. Both have since happened.

As Will Carroll stated in the tweet, this is a must read…  HOWEVER after seeing all of it remember the actual pioneer, Dr. Bennet Omalu.

12 thoughts on “CTE Insight from the Bostonia: but take time to remember the real pioneer

  1. A Concerned Mom May 3, 2012 / 08:38

    I found the 2009 GQ article on Dr. Omalu.


    “Omalu has set his sights on curing CTE. And why not? “You pop a pill before you play, a medicine that prevents the buildup of tau,” he says. “Like you take an aspirin to prevent heart disease.” Why not? “This is how we now need to talk. Not this back-and-forth of human selfishness. Not this NFL politics and meanness. Anybody still denying the disease is out of his mind. The issue now is treatment. That is my next step, now that I understand the pathology.””

  2. Military spouse May 3, 2012 / 09:31

    I read this article when it first was published. I applaud you for starting this blog as it is definitely needed. It is ironic that the sports world has begun to bring awareness of concussions at the same time that my husband suffered a mild traumatic brain injury while serving in Afghanistan. Everytime I hear of an ex-NFL player committing suicide it deeply saddens me as my husband has talked about this several times due to the severity of his headaches. The suicide rate has increased in the military, which I believe is partly due to this. It is frustrating when you feel like you are standing in a room shouting and no one hears you. I feel this way every time I have to deal with the military’s medical system. It seems as if the same thing goes on in the sports world. People are afraid to address what they do not understand. It is my hope and prayer that through continued education and blogs such as these that sports players with multiple concussions and military personnel with blast-related concussions will finally start getting the help they so desperately need. I pray every day that this will come before my husband decides he can not take the pain anymore. My prayers go out to the friends and families of all those affected by this. Thank you for creating this site!

    • joe bloggs May 3, 2012 / 14:54

      Ma’am, you have every reason to be disgusted with Tricare/Medcom/MHS. The truth is the men and women who have taken blast exposure in OIF/OEF have suffered from injuries that are far worse than sports injuries. That is not to say sports injuries are not serious, they are as illustrated by this blog.

      However, military injuries have been far worse and few have been documented, less have been tracked and even less treated. These injuries are distinct from sports injuries and the interventions may be quite different. Don’t let some Army clown or VA doc try to spin that memory loss or psychiatric manifestations are figment of your husband’s imagination. This is line the desk jockeys have running for close to a decade. We are like the NFL. No we are not. It is a different scale of damage

      Congress put a $2B up for military TBI research over the last 5 years and only $633MM can be accounted for. Few research papers, a screening test ANAM, that does not work and soldiers left out in the cold to see for their own care. It is clear that Skyline never wanted to find the wounded as it would cost money.

      The spouses of service members and veterans need to complain loudly to Congress and demand that those responsible are publicly held to account.

  3. joe bloggs May 3, 2012 / 10:41

    Let’s not forget Dr. Maitland who described pugilistic dementia in 1928. Or Barry Jordan at Cornell who did enormous whose contributions to sports neurology from the 1980s to today go unacknowledged.

    Omalu and BU are only part of the puzzle and may not be working down a path actually less traveled by injured players.

    • A Concerned Mom May 3, 2012 / 11:55

      CNN did an interview with Dr. Barry Jordan on boxers.



      “Dr. Jordan is a board certified neurologist with specialized interests in sports neurology, Alzheimer’s disease, and traumatic brain injury.

      Dr. Jordan is currently the Chief Medical Officer of the New York State Athletic Commission and a team physician for U.S.A. Boxing.”

    • A Concerned Mom May 3, 2012 / 12:04


      “The term punch drunk entered the medical lexicon in 1928 when pathologist Harrison Martland, M.D., first described this syndrome in the Journal of the American Medical Association. For some time, he wrote, fans and promoters have recognized a peculiar condition occurring among prize fighters which, in ring parlance, they speak of as ‘punch drunk.’ Fighters in whom the early symptoms are well recognized are said by the fans to be ‘cuckoo,’ ‘goofy,’ ‘cutting paper dolls,’ or ‘slug nutty.’ He estimated that half of all veteran professional boxers had the condition.”

    • Dustin Fink May 3, 2012 / 12:39

      Thanks for the insight joe… You are quite correct this information has been out there for some time…

  4. A Concerned Mom May 3, 2012 / 15:14

    This is from last fall, but it has some quotes that are worth revisiting (the article includes a number of quotes from Nowinski).


    “He sprang to his feet, and at full speed, collided with the running back. Ayles thinks it was his first concussion.

    He was 12.

    “All you’re told is to just go and hit someone,” Ayles said. “I’ve been doing that ever since, but I can’t anymore.””

    “”But it’s kind of a relief now that I don’t have to take any more hits.””

    “”We’ve set up systems where we expose children to an extraordinary amount of brain trauma through repetition that we’re not paying attention to,” concussions expert Christopher Nowinski said. “Kids don’t realize that they’re putting themselves at risk of sudden death. They don’t realize they’re putting themselves at risk for future problems if they don’t let their concussions heal properly.””

    “… CIF associate executive director Roger Blake said. “We have coaches out there that aren’t following sound, scientific studies about how to best train student athletes.” “

  5. A Concerned Mom May 4, 2012 / 07:16

    If researchers are beginning to believe that playing tackle football from youth football through adulthood is too much exposure, I hope they speak out now, rather than wait until the have definitive proof.


    ““He had very big exposure,” Bailes said of Seau. “Twenty years in the NFL. Three years at USC. Four years of high school, plus youth football.””

    • Joe Bloggs May 4, 2012 / 08:21

      Bailes has been part of the confusion for two decades. I suspect you will see many that made money of players’ backs suddenly get religion.

      • A Concerned Mom May 4, 2012 / 09:16

        I would rather see them get religion now than later or never. Sometimes I suspect there are some who are still trying to muddy the waters (what the official term … obfuscate).

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