A contemplation about "Concussion"

By Michael Gaft

I would like to start by saying that I am not a massage therapist or a medical professional and my interest in this matter is rather philosophical than medical.

Recently, I watch “Concussion” movie and was impressed with it in a couple of different respects, least of which was a great job by Will Smith imitating Nigerian accent.

It was very touching how Will Smith portrayed Dr. Omalu.  He’s shown a person of unusual courage, resolve, and perseverance, and, at the same time, someone very humble, without preemptive sassiness and tantamount of drama. “The true American” as they put it in the movie.  I might add "the true citizen of the World" since it’s not only in America that the big business is throwing its weight around.  Maybe that belief in the exclusivity of the US as a beacon of justice and opportunity actually kept him going through the entire ordeal and the success, he has eventually enjoyed in the US, couldn’t have been possible somewhere else.  That and the pretty partner that Hollywood has furnished Will Smith in the movie.  Surely, behind every great man, there’s got to be a great woman.  “Serse la fam” so to speak. Not sure whether this is how this reality happen in the life of real Dr. Omalu as he is not as tall and handsome as Will, but let’s give this plot line the benefit of a doubt.

It’s actually amazing that the real Dr. Omalu was able to persevere through that struggle.  Even being truly righteous and courageous, he was also very lucky.  I am thinking of many doctors who on the brink of such discoveries were shut down, intimidated, were stripped of their licenses, lost their jobs or, perhaps, careers.

However, to me, the most striking inference of the movie was in the fact that Mr. Omalu had to make the discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in 2002, while this phenomenon was discovered many years earlier, before he was even born, in the Soviet Union.  Only this condition was detected in connection with boxing rather than with Football.  However, as I can recollect, Joe Luis had the 750 lb punch, as was the case with many other knock-out artists, which is quite enough to create a concussion and leave a person with CTE.

As I was saying, this phenomenon was discovered in the Soviet Union in 1963 in connection with a very famous, at the time, boxer Valery Popenchenko, who was called “Mr. Mystery Knock Out.” Rather than describing the history here I’d like to offer you the link, where Boris discusses it at length.

To hear the story about  the discovery of brain damage as the consequence of concussion please follow this link.

Interestingly, not only that in the Russian doctors discovered these encephalopathies, but they also developed the massage protocols to handle this condition.  Among many bad things that a police state might enforce, this came out good as all the boxers and athletes of other sports susceptible to the possibility of concussion were obligated to go through the appropriate treatment and only then were allowed to return to training.

If instead of pushing the players to the field after sustaining the concussion, NFL would employ these very safe and cheap treatment protocol, there would be no brain damage and consequent deaths of so many icon players.  I remember this sentiment coming many times from Boris when visiting him in the past, I saw huge burly fellows leaving his office after receiving this protocol.  So I actually very glad that the movie like this has finally arrived.

The whole situation with Dr. Omalu discovery reminded me the case of the father of genetics Gregor Johann Mendel who made his discoveries in 1865 and 1866, and which had been forgotten to be rediscovered in 1900’s.

As I am contemplating about the movie and the real case that this movie is about, I have a bitter taste in my mouth – “what a waste” of a talent!  Why can’t we, as the only Homo sapiens on this planet, communicate the knowledge and be helpful to one another?

The opening scene in the movie, where Dr. Omalu is subjected to inquest regarding his credentials, is very indicative of the overall US approach to an “alien” source of knowledge.  It wasn’t enough to say that he was a pathology anatomist and established the cause of death on a daily basis. He had to mention that he had degrees from the several accredited American schools, before his testimonial been given any weight.  It sort of blows my mind.  Here it is this protocol that prevents long-lasting brain damage, just take it.

Surely, there is some justifiable safety precaution here for who knows what people came from other countries can claim? Thank god the US has enough of its own quacks.  However, if someone offers methods of treatments that has been proven safe and effective over many years, why not give them the benefit of the doubt enough to test them?

Another unsettling moment in the movie was when NFL finally started listening to Dr. Omalu’s reasoning only because one of their own upper-level managers, ex-football player, also committed a suicide.  Do we have to wait for another fifty years until someone like Dr. Omalu would develop the protocol in the US?

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