NFL ‘Concus­sion’ doctor’s words hit home

Blocks away from an NFL dinner hosted at San Francisco City Hall, one of football’s biggest revolutionaries spoke to a very attentive audience.

Dr. Bennet Omalu, perhaps best known as the man portrayed by Will Smith in the movie “Concussion,” spoke for two hours at Nourse Theater, captivating everyone, and especially me.

A parent of a young son and football lover — not the NFL, not college, but the game, from what happens three plays before a play, to the play coming in the next three.

I am a fanatic, one who grew up playing whenever given the chance, and over everything else.

I’m the type of guy who has lost out on relationship because of the time I’ve dedicated to studying the game at different levels, the type of guy whose bookshelf is filled primarily with football text.

Most importantly, I am a football fanatic who will never condone my son to play the game of football.

Omalu opened his conversation, as the City Arts and Lectures called it, by touching on some key topics — one being that the focus on concussions is a simple fraud, and that repeated head trauma is what is causing chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

That, as Omalu predicts, 90 to 100 percent of professional football players will suffer from the brain disease at some point in their lives, ranging from “mild” to “severe.”

As a parent, one that hit home the most: a Purdue study that showed relatively significant brain damage to high school players in their first season of tackle football.

I say relatively significant, because any damage to the brain is significant, but also, because the studies were conducted six months after the season had ended, as a new one was set to begin.

This study showed that young men were gearing up to damage the thing they were being told to hone, in the very same place they were supposed to sharpen it. They were being told by educators to make it more difficult to gain an education.

And until then, it’s tough to say anyone knew it.

Omalu made sure to drill into the head of his audience that he is not an enemy of football. He is not against football. In fact, he repeatedly mentioned that he is for football. But smart football.

A game with intellect, not a game that removes intellect and cognitive function from its participants.

To what degree are these children who were found to have re-wired brains actually impaired? Nobody knows. Could it be as minor as a deep cut that will heal fully in some time? Sure, that might be possible.

But we don’t know. I don’t know. And I can’t consider myself a good parent, definitely not a decent human being, by influencing my son to play this game. Not tackle.

As important as it was for Omalu to mention his stance on the game, it’s important for me to emphasize that one of the primary visions I had when learning about pending fatherhood was to teach my son a route tree.

To show him the proper technique on a swim and rip. Let him know the difference between when toughing it out was okay, and when something needed to be looked at.

This game, though, even at its lowest levels, needs to be looked at.

Because it hurts me to not allow myself to do these things with the most pure and important person in my life.

And I know I’m not alone.


Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the Oakland Raiders.