Dr. Bennett Omalu (178708)

From Pop Warner through the professional ranks, football is far and away the most popular sport in America. It has become one of this country’s most significant cultural and economic institutions. The National Football League, the world’s richest sports league, generated more than $12 billion last season and is projected to exceed that figure by the end of this season.

With the NFL’s corporate sponsors experiencing profits spilling into the billions and the proliferation of fantasy sports and sports betting, the money changing hands as a result of football is staggering. An article published this past September on Forbes.com stated, “A total of $95 billion will be wagered on National Football League and college games throughout the course of this season.”

But how long will the current prosperity and obsession last? The game’s safety is a prominent topic of discussion, and it is certain to become even more widespread with the Christmas Day release of the movie “Concussion,” starring Will Smith as forensic pathologist Dr. Bennett Omalu.

The film chronicles the true story of Omalu’s noble crusade to raise public awareness regarding the dangers of head trauma resulting from playing football. The number of former football players who have been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive degenerative disease of the brain, notably in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma, is alarming.

During a game on Dec. 6 versus the Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings safety Antone Exum sustained a fractured rib and injured AC joint in his shoulder in the first quarter. He shouldn’t have played any further. But the Vikings were shorthanded at safety, so he dangerously soldiered on.

“Thoughts went through my head: ‘I could die out there,’” Exum chillingly emailed the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “I was feeling a pain in my chest with every breath and motion … It was scary because I didn’t know what it was.”

The tide of football is likely to shift in the coming years with accounts like Omalu’s and Exum’s receiving extensive exposure.