Have you been to see the movie yet? “Concussion” is directed and written by Peter Landesman. If you are a football fan or player or have kids who want to try out for football then this sports medical drama film is for you. Love it or hate it, I promise you will not leave the theater ambivalent. The movie is the direct result of the 2009 GQ exposé “Game Brain" by Jeanne Marie Laskas. The film stars Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu. He is a Nigerian-born, forensic pathologist, and is currently chief medical examiner of San Joaquin County, California. He is also a professor in the UC Davis Department of Medical Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. I don’t want to ruin the movie experience by telling you the plot. Let’s just say Omalu fought against efforts by the National Football League to suppress his research on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) brain damage, suffered by professional football players.
Dr. Bennet published his findings and found that truth isn’t always popular. His boss put huge pressure on him to withdraw his article. This week I heard him relate that, in his field, if he did withdraw, the consequences would be huge. One person said he may as well go back to Nigeria and drive a cab.
Not too many of our readers were either old enough or took note of the Nigerian Civil War (July6, 1967 – January15, 1970.) The "Biafarian War", was fought to counter the secession of Biafra from Nigeria. To me it was all about who would control Nigeria’s Oil-rich Niger River Delta. In Biafra, the Ibo people felt they could no longer coexist with the Northern-dominated federal government. That’s the setting for the start of this unusual life: Bennet Omalu.
He was born in Nnokwa, Anambra in southeastern Nigeria, in September 1968. Bennet was the sixth of seven siblings. So the first months of his life were spent in the disruption that war brings. At one point they had to flee their village. Something he said while being interviewed by the BBC last week stuck with me. The family name, Omalu, is a shortened form of the surname, Onyemalukwube. In English that means "he (she) who knows, must speak." When you see the movie you will see exactly how significant that turned out to be.
Omalu is married to Prema Mutiso, a native of Kenya. They live in Lodi, California and have two children, Ashly and Mark. He is a practicing Catholic, and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in February 2015. I was delighted when the interviewer asked Dr. Bennet how he found the strength to resist the pressures put upon him to deny his findings and retract his article. He said that he was carried through that time by his faith.
There is a moment when organized wickedness in this world may make you its target. How will you stand in the winds that will blow then? Omalu said he learned, first-hand, just how vicious money interests can get when threatened. He is no plaster saint. Those were days when, he said, he drank too much and gained wait from comfort food. Nevertheless, our Lord came to aid him and he was able to live up to the meaning of his family name.
Why did he do what he did? Here is what he told Frontline News: “There is a practice I have. I am a spiritual person. I'm a Catholic. I treat my patients, the dead patients, as live patients. I believe there is life after death. And I talk to my patients. I talk to them, not loudly but quietly in my heart when I look at them. Before I do an autopsy, I must have a visual contact with the face. I do that. I'll come out of respect; I'll look at the face.”
If you think this is weird, there’s a good chance you don’t yet know what it is to respect all life, the way true Christianity engenders. Perhaps it’s time for you to find out why our Founder said: “I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly.”