Dr. Bennet Omalu has led ground-breaking research regarding brain injuries in sport and is the subject of a new movie entitled Concussion, and he joined Joe Molloy on Off The Ball this evening.
Following the death of Pittsburgh Steelers player Mike Webster, Dr. Omalu handled his autopsy and determined that he had died through what he termed CTE: caused by successive blows to the head.
Dr. Omalu subsequently discovered that there other NFL players had died from the same condition, but was blocked by the NFL in his attempt to present his findings.
The story is now being told on the big screen, with Will Smith portraying Dr. Omalu. The film had a disappointing box office response in the United States, perhaps owing to its Christmas Day opening.
While Dr. Omalu's work has centred around American Football, he also expressed his concerns about rugby.
He believes that the entire discourse regarding head trauma in rugby is wrong, focussing on concussions rather than the numerous and serious blows to the head a player can suffer throughout a rugby game.
Dr. Omalu believes there is too much emphasis on large-scale concussion in rugby, and ignorance towards what he terms 'sub-concussive blow':
Our focus on concussion is a misappropriation of the facts, by fault or default, intentional or unintentional.
The issue is not about concussions. A concussion is a serious injury that would manifest immediately with symptoms.
For one documented case of concussion there are thousands of sub-concussive blows. Mike Webster, for example, suffered CTE without suffering a serious concussion in his life.
This is not about concussion. It is about the exposure to repeated blows to your head, blunt force trauma to your head.
With or without a helmet, you stand a chance of suffering an irreversible brain injury. There is no cure for it, as the brain has no reasonable capacity to heal itself.
As presenter Molloy points out, the discussion around brain injury here is often centred as to whether or not a player has suffered a concussion following a blow to the head, and a subsequent sigh of relief if the player is passed, rather than the focus being on the intensity and frequency of the blows to the head.
The issue is not merely restricted to head collisions. Dr. Omalu imagines the brain's position in the head as being similar to a balloon sitting in a jar. If one shakes the jar, the balloon will shake as well. The same occurs with the brain, including instances of players being suddenly halted in their tracks by perfectly legal tackles.
You can listen to an interview that was as frightening as it was lengthy here.
Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE