Dr. Bennet Omalu, who helped discover chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and linked it to football-specific head trauma, discussed CTE and its believed prominence in NFL players in an interview with Time published Tuesday.
“In my opinion, taking professional football players as a cohort, I think over 90% of American football players suffer from this disease,” Omalu said. “Over 90% of players who play to the professional level have some degree of this disease. I have not examined any brain of a retired football player that came back negative.”
Omalu is portrayed in the movie Concussion, set to be released Friday. Actor Will Smith stars as Omalu and depicts the doctor fighting to bring awareness of CTE to the NFL and fighting for the league to take action against the disease.
In his interview with Time, Omalu added that the severity of the disease varies from player to player, meaning symptoms can span from mild to severe.
“I meet with retired football players. Some are well-dressed, some are well-spoken, but when you talk to them personally they will admit to you that they are having problems,” Omalu said. “But they are managing their problems. They have impaired memory, they’re having mood problems. They are being treated by their psychiatrists.”
Currently, CTE can only be officially diagnosed after a postmortem examination of the brain. However, Omalu insists that the disease can be diagnosed in living individuals “based on the continuation of symptoms.”
“But now we, as a pathologists, need more objective measures because symptoms, to a certain degree, are subjective,” Omalu said. “We need markers: biochemical markets, radiological markers. But we should also realize that radiological markers, biochemical markers wouldn’t give 100% degree of certainly. It is not an absolute science.”
- Xandria James