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Feature Medicine and the Media

Concussion: doctor who took on the might of American football hits the big screen

BMJ 2016; 352 doi: (Published 06 January 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;352:h6856
  1. Anne Gulland, freelance journalist, London
  1. agulland{at}

The pathologist who made the link between American football and brain disease is the subject of a controversial new Hollywood film. Anne Gulland reports

The new film Concussion tells the story of a naive young Nigerian pathologist who took on the multibillion dollar National Football League (NFL) over its record on protecting players from brain injury.

Will Smith plays Bennet Omalu, a medical examiner in Pennsylvania, who first came up against the NFL in 2002 when he did an autopsy on “Iron Mike” Webster, a legendary Pittsburgh Steelers’ center for 15 years. Webster died at the age of 50 from a myocardial infarction, but Omalu wanted to find out what led to the player’s well documented meltdown after his retirement. He ended up living in his car and was confused, forgetful, and depressed.

When he examined Webster’s brain Omalu was surprised to find that it showed no obvious after effects from the many knocks and …

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