Dr. Bennet Omalu was the first to document the problem of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in professional football players. The National Football League for years sought to downplay his findings. The NFL has since acknowledged it has a "concussion problem," and that it is reducing it. Andy Furillo The Sacramento Bee
Dr. Bennet Omalu was the first to document the problem of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in professional football players. The National Football League for years sought to downplay his findings. The NFL has since acknowledged it has a "concussion problem," and that it is reducing it. Andy Furillo The Sacramento Bee

Health & Medicine

‘Concussion’ doctor Omalu receives top sports medicine award

By Sammy Caiola

scaiola@sacbee.com

March 24, 2016 04:58 PM

UPDATED March 24, 2016 11:37 PM

Dr. Bennet Omalu, the UC Davis pathologist who achieved big-screen fame for his discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy among NFL players, has received the United States Sports Academy’s highest award in sports medicine, the Dr. Ernst Jokl Sports Medicine Award.

CTE, as the condition is called, is a neurodegenerative disorder that can develop after repetitive blows to the head, which jostle the brain against the skull. Omalu first spotted it while examining the corpse of former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster in 2002. Webster, like several other NFL players who have died in recent years, suffered dementia and depression in the months leading up to his death – symptoms that the medical field now associate with CTE.

The entire CTE journey has been an extremely difficult one, that sometimes shifts my faith in America. These awards are reaffirming the goodness of this country. If you do something out of love that would enhance our humanity, eventually you will prevail.

Dr. Bennet Omalu

Omalu, who also serves as the San Joaquin County medical examiner, has gone to great lengths to raise awareness about the dangers of contact sports, and has testified in lawsuits against the NFL. In 2008, he published a book titled, “Play Hard, Die Young: Football Dementia, Depression, and Death.”

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During all of that time, his work was questioned and sometimes denied by pro football groups, he said. Now, he is receiving multiple awards for his accomplishments.

“The entire CTE journey has been an extremely difficult one, that sometimes shifts my faith in America,” Omalu said. “These awards are reaffirming the goodness of this country. If you do something out of love that would enhance our humanity, eventually you will prevail.”

The United States Sports Academy is a nonprofit university that prepares men and women for careers in the profession of sports. The Jokl award is given annually to an individual who contributes significantly to the growth and development of sport medicine through practice or scholarly activity.

Previous recipients of the award include Dr. Cindy Chang, the U.S. chief medical officer for the 2012 London Olympic Games; Dr. Steve Devick, co-founder of the King-Devick concussion detection test; and Dr. Robert E. Leach, editor emeritus of the American Journal of Sports Medicine.

“As a physician and researcher, (Dr. Omalu) has looked objectively at the types of injuries that can occur in contact sport, and he’s caused people to rethink their points of view,” said Keith Ayers, spokesman for the United States Sports Academy. “Even more importantly, he’s urged us to put the health and welfare of athletes first and foremost in every consideration.”

Sammy Caiola: 916-321-1636, @SammyCaiola