What was your reaction to Will Smith’s portrayal of you?
Will Smith is a good friend of mine now. He’s a good man. His acting in this movie reaffirms what I believed this country to be when I was growing up in Nigeria: We can make the impossible possible. Like he has said, he was a football father. He didn’t want to do this movie. But when he met me, he saw the sincerity in me and the selflessness in me, and that convinced him to do this movie.
The Bennet Omalu Foundation launched on Dec. 15. Why start the foundation, and what are the goals?
It’s been an American story. (Concussion producers) Ridley Scott, and his wife Giannina Facio, dreamt a dream, an impossible dream, to find a cure for CTE. The goal is simply to tap into that great American ingenuity to support the families and the sufferers of this disease. To support the education and the awareness of CTE because there is so much misrepresentation of the science out there.
There’s so much focus on concussions, but the focus should be on exposure to repeated blows to the head. And this is not anti-football or anti- high-impact contact sports, it’s simply about enlightenment.
The NIH — isn’t this something they should all be ashamed of? That a doctor, a young doctor like me from Africa, who knew nothing about football, came to America and discovered a disease they could not discover?
In spite of all the hundreds of millions of dollars given to the NIH on brain trauma research, how was it that someone who didn’t have a dime of government money discovered this disease that has so much impact on this country? This is why we need the Bennet Omalu Foundation, we need new perspective!
The family of Dave Duerson, the former Chicago Bears safety who committed suicide in 2010 and was diagnosed with CTE post-mortem, has objected to his portrayal in the movie. In one scene, Duerson kicks you out of a medical conference and tells you to go back to Africa and “get away from our game.” The family has said that was manufactured. Did that happen?
The Duerson family is a family that is in pain. I empathize with that. You know what, I lost my father last year. My father was 91. I knew he was going to die. But when he died, I wept for 2 days. My six-year-old son felt so bad for me he got me a teddy bear and gave it to me to comfort me. I empathize with them. I have no comment. This is a movie based on a true story.
I met him one on one. I know what he said to me. At the beginning many NFL players, not just him, they fed into the NFL narrative of me. Just like the Seau family. Remember, at some point they said I shouldn’t touch their father. That I should go away. That I was quack. The Seau family said that to me, remember? I wept that day, but I have forgiven them, because I know what it is to feel pain.
The Duerson family, this is something personal to them. In their mind, they believe the movie was making their father look like a bad person. That wasn’t what I saw. People empathize with him. Dave Duerson was a victim of this entire CTE quagmire.
Dave Duerson didn’t kick me out. That is not true. Remember, the people who kicked me out were the NFL. In that scene, there was some dramatization. Just like many players who believed what they were being told, he acted that out. Not out of enmity, but just out of someone who has been fed false information.
How has your life changed because of this movie?
My life has not changed. This has never been about me. My life changed in 2005 when I published that paper [on Webster having CTE]. I’m still suffering from that. All I’m asking now is that people should leave me alone.