Concussion by Jeanne Marie Laskas
(Random House, 2015, 259 pages)
I really wanted to read this book before I see the movie. I was glad to find it on one of our library displays. It tells of the discovery of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) in NFL players by Dr. Bennet Omalu. Dr. Omalu left Nigeria for the United States to become a pathologist. While working at the Allegheny County Coroner’s Office in Pittsburgh in 2002, Dr. Omalu performed the autopsy of famous football player, Mike Webster. After careful study of Webster’s brain, Dr. Omalu believed Webster suffered from dementia caused by repeated blows to the head similar to those of boxers. More examinations were done. Large accumulations of T-protein clumps were found in Webster’s brain, which affected Webster’s mood, emotions, and executive functions. Dr. Omalu concluded that Webster’s CTE was caused by concussions he suffered while playing football.
Dr. Omalu and his colleagues published the first paper on CTE in 2005. Over the next ten years, Dr. Omalu examined the brains of other deceased NFL players and found the same evidence. What’s surprising is that repeated mild concussions can cause CTE as well. Throughout the course of the investigation the NFL fought hard to suppress the truth. Many retired NFL players continue to struggle with cognitive and intellectual impairment, mood disorders, depression, drug abuse, and suicide attempts. It’s heartbreaking to read stories of how these concussions destroyed football players’ lives and their families. About half of the book is devoted to Dr. Omalu’s personal life and how he achieved the American dream. I found that some of transitions between Dr. Omalu’s life and the concussion research were not as smooth as they could have been. Still, it’s a fantastic and captivating read. If you only have a moment, PBS has created a Timeline of the NFL’s Concussion Crisis. I highly recommend this book to people who are interested in medicine and contact sports and to the parents who will decide what sports their kids will play.
Here’s what happens when players’ helmets make head-to-head contact as described by Dr. Omalu on page 99:
Football players wear helmets, good protection for the skull. So it would be reasonable to think that the brain would be spared damaging impact… Anybody who knew anything about the anatomy of the head knew better. It was a simple matter of physics. The brain floats, is suspended in a kind of thick jelly inside the skull. If you hit the head hard enough, that brain is going to move, no matter what kind of protection you put around the skull. A helmet protects the skull. A helmet can’t keep the brain from sloshing around in that skull. If you hit your head hard enough, the brain goes bashing against the walls of the skull.