The understanding of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE as the outcome of multiple concussive brain injuries began in 2002 when Bennet Omalu, MD conducted an autopsy of Mike Webster’s brain. Omalu noted that Webster’s brain didn’t look like any fifty-year old that he ever examined as he observed the changes in Webster’s brain brought about by multiple concussions over his long and hard career in football. Omalu’s report caused much concern among NFL physicians who initially demanded a retraction of his report.
Dr. Omalu’s findings of the tau tangles initiated the recognition of the risks football players faced from multiple concussions. We long understood that blows to the head from sports such as boxing would cause neurological problems, but it was hard to jump from boxing in which fighters wore no head protection and took multiple hits to the head during fights to the sport of football where players were garbed in protective gear including helmets. We had heard players talking about “getting their bell rung” but few people realized the cummulative effects of these injuries. Yet Omalu’s autopsy report revealed that multiple concussions caused changes in the brain and brought about cognitive, psychological and physical deterioration over time. George Visger, a former 49er who experienced many concussions in his career, has shared the story of his injuries, treatments and life struggles with readers of NeuroNotes and alerted readers of this blog to the release of The League of Denial.
The League of Denial starts airing on PBS on Tuesday, October 8 and addresses the problems of former NFL players with CTE, the stance of the National Football League and perhaps the future of the sport. Click here to read more about Dr. Bennet Omalu’s findings, and to see a preview of his interview in the film.