On 25 December 2015, Concussion, a movie about the National Football League and concussions to its players, will premiere in theaters in the USA. The movie is about Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian forensic pathologist, who, while working as a neuropathologist at the Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Coroner’s Office examined the brains of several deceased National Football League (NFL) players. He was the first to publish findings of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in American football players.
For those of you who ignore the sport, or find it an American curiosity, it is a very violent sport where 160 kg (about 350 lb) men, running and moving at the speed of world class Olympic athletes, hit other men moving at the same speed.
The game is complex (don’t even think that these young men are stupid, they have to memorize and quickly read hundreds of play combinations just for one game), much like an intricate ballet. Those who belittle the sport don’t understand its elaborate and convoluted movements combined with its brutal and gladiatorial combat.
It’s also a huge business. The National Football League owns Sundays, generating revenue in excess of US$12 billion from TV contracts, merchandise sales, and licensing. It’s difficult to tell what profits it generates (it’s a private “non-profit” corporation), but it’s estimated to be around $1 billion per year.
Put it another way, the second most valuable sports franchise in the world is the Dallas Cowboys, who are estimated to have a value of around US$3.2 billion. Just as a comparison, for those of you who are not Americans, the most valuable sports franchise in the world is the soccer team, Real Madrid, which is valued at US$3.26 billion, just slightly ahead of the Cowboys.
The NFL is such a powerful economic force, that they are very careful with their image, despite ongoing issues with domestic violence and other problems. It was amusing to watch how ESPN, the USA’s leading cable sports network, dealt with the movie about the National Football League and concussions since the network paid the NFL over US$15 billion for TV rights for the next few years. ESPN is reluctant to criticize the NFL for anything, but it also needs advertisers like the promoters of the new movie.
But this isn’t about sports per se. Let’s look at the science behind the claims made by Dr. Bennet Omalu. Let’s look at the credibility of these claims and refutations.