Monday, November 23, 2015

Concussion, by Jeanne Marie Laskas

I love watching football.  I go to all the Baylor games I can, and catch games on TV that I can't attend.  When Baylor's not playing, there are plenty of college games I'll watch.  I love the long pass plays, the plays where the runner breaks free, the scrambles and miracle catches.  But I also love the tough hits, the flattening of the quarterback, the open-field tackles.  However, as the players get bigger and the game gets faster, these big hits take a toll, more and more.

Dr. Bennett Omalu, a Nigerian doctor, came to the U.S. to pursue the American dream and wound up in the middle of a controversy that shook up the sport of football.  Using first-hand accounts, as well as lengthy passages in Omalu's own voice, Jeanne Marie Laskas tells Omalu's story in Concussion.  Dr. Omalu had never heard of "Iron Mike" Webster before his body arrived in the coroner's office where he worked.  Omalu began studying his brain and the brains of other football players, discovering in the process a brain disorder he labelled chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Needless to say, his findings were not popular with the NFL, whose hired researchers were busy debunking the idea that football leads to brain damage.  Omalu stubbornly continued his research and ultimately changed the landscape of football.  Despite the efforts to improve helmet technology, the movement of the brain inside the skull can't be prevented in a collision.  As the brain is jostled on play after play, damage accumulates and may not manifest itself until years later.

As long as the teams line up every weekend, I and millions of fans will be cheering them on.  Fans, the NFL, college coaches, and coaches and players all the way down to the peewee leagues need to evaluate the way they coach, the way they play, and the extent to which they value the individual player.  I don't see American's giving up on their favorite spectator sport, but the pattern of damage that Omalu exposed cries out for change in the game.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

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