Bennet Omalu says focus on CTE misses the point of brain damage in NFL
Dr. Bennet Omalu, the man who discovered the existence of CTE, is not necessarily unhappy that studies about its prevalence in former NFL players get so much attention — but he warns that those who focus only on that disease are missing the point.
According to Omalu, the focus on CTE is misguided, as former players will still have brain damage even if it does not manifest itself as CTE.
“There has been so much fascination with CTE that we are going the wrong way,” Omalu said, via Kevin Seifert of ESPN. “CTE is just one disease in a spectrum of many diseases caused by brain trauma. If he doesn’t have CTE, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have brain damage. … I’ve always said that every child who plays football has a 100 percent risk of exposure to brain damage. And I’ve always said that at a professional level, 100 percent would have brain damage of some kind to some degree. That’s whether or not their brains are found to have CTE.”
Omalu asserted that there is virtually no way to avoid permanent brain damage as an NFL player with or without CTE.
“There is no such thing as a safe blow to the head,” Omalu said. “And then when you have repeated blows to your head, it increases the risk of permanent brain damage. Once you start having hundreds or thousands of blows, there is a 100 percent risk of exposure to permanent brain damage. The brain does not have a reasonable capacity to regenerate. This is something we have always known.”
Studies about the prevalence of CTE in NFL players have been widely publicized and have led at least one prominent player to seriously consider his future. That’s fine, but Omalu’s point is that everyone needs to remember that there is more to brain damage than CTE, even if one doesn’t wind up with that particular disease.