1004) The Christian Doctor Who Took on the NFL

Dr. Bennet Omalu  (1968- )


By John Stonestreet, January 8, 2016 at: http://www.breakpoint.org 

     America’s favorite sport can be brutal.  A Christian doctor’s quest to save football players’ lives is the subject of a moving new film.

     Thirteen years ago, Dr. Bennet Omalu, a pathologist working at the Alleghany County Coroner’s office in Pittsburgh, performed an autopsy on one of the Steel City’s greatest sports heroes:  Steeler Hall of Famer “Iron” Mike Webster.

     What the Nigerian physician found shocked him.  Webster’s teeth had rotted away and he had resorted to using Super Glue to try to reattach them.  His remains looked and smelled like he had been living in his car, which he had.

     Omalu began wondering how a man so celebrated in life wound up dying as he did.  The answer to that question is a story of courage, perseverance and more than a little faith.  And it’s depicted brilliantly in the new film, “Concussion” starring Will Smith.

     Omalu examined Webster’s brain, which showed no readily visible signs of trauma.  But further tests, which Omalu paid for out of his own pocket, revealed “brown and red splotches” all over his brain.  These splotches, called “Tau proteins,” are also found in the brains of those suffering from Alzheimer’s and senile dementia.  They’re described as being “kind of like sludge, clogging up the works, killing cells in regions responsible for mood, emotions, and executive functioning.”

     This is what reduced Mike Webster to a mentally-disturbed man living out of his car.

     And he wasn’t the only one.  Former Steelers Terry Long and Justin Strzelczyk, both of whom died young after quick mental deterioration after their playing careers, showed the Tau proteins in their brains.  And it wasn’t just Steelers, either.  Former Eagles safety Andre Waters, who killed himself at age 44, showed the same abnormalities when Omalu examined his brain.

     When Omalu published his findings in a prestigious medical journal, he expected the NFL to be grateful to him for pointing out the health risks to its players.  He was, to put it mildly, naïve.  As his mentor tells Omalu in the film, the NFL owns an entire day of the week, the one the church used to own, and his findings threatened that arrangement.

     The NFL and its apologists went after Omalu hard, personally as well as professionally, causing him great suffering.  And this is where his story becomes a story of faith.  As Omalu told Christianity Today, his concern for the players had its inspiration in the parable of the lost sheep.

     As he said, “The shepherd had 100 sheep, and 1 went missing.  What did he do?  He took the 99, kept them safe to go search for the 1.  Even if these findings affect only one player, that player is as important as the other many . . . That was what helped me to keep moving on.  It was no longer about me . . .”

     When “moving on” became especially difficult, he prayed “Lord God Almighty, if this is not of your will, if I am on the wrong side, I pray you’d reveal it to me.”  When other cases turned up, his wife told him, “Bennet, it is not a coincidence that you are getting these cases.  Are you the only doctor in the world?”

     And almost as remarkable as this story of how one Christian immigrant doctor changed the way America’s most popular sport is played is the fact that Omalu’s story, including the role his faith played in his work, made it on to the big screen pretty much intact.

     “Concussion” is not an easy movie to watch.  It earned a PG-13 rating for intense depictions of drug use and human suffering.  In fact, when Sports Illustrated showed it to 70 retired NFL players, some of them found it to be, in SI’s words, a “panic-inducing horror flick.”  But it’s still a story that needs to be told.

     As viewers learn in the film, Omalu’s full name in his native Ibo language means “he who knows, must speak.”  And that’s Christian witness in a nutshell.  Now it’s up to us to listen.


See also:

Meet the Christian Doctor Who Changed How We Play Football
Katelyn Beaty | Christianity Today | December 22, 2015

“Concussion”  (movie trailer)


Luke 15:3-6  —  Jesus told them this parable:  “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them.  Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home.  Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’”

Isaiah 6:8  —  Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send?…  And I said, “Here am I.  Send me!”

Jeremiah 6:10-11a  —  To whom can I speak and give warning?  Who will listen to me?  Their ears are closed  so they cannot hear.  The word of the Lord is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it.  But I am full of the wrath of the Lordand I cannot hold it in.


O Lord God, when Thou givest to Thy servants to endeavor any great matter, grant us also to know that it is not the beginning, but the continuation of the same to the end, until it be thoroughly finished, which yields true glory; through Him who for the finishing of Thy work laid down his life, our Redeemer, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

–Source unknown, based on a saying by Sir Frances Drake