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Doctor who found CTE in ex-Steeler Webster concerned over hype

Ben Schmitt
| Friday, Aug. 4, 2017, 11:03 a.m.
From left: Will Smith, the real Bennet Omalu and director Peter Landesman on the set of Columbia Pictures' 'Concussion.'
photo credit Melinda Sue Gordon
From left: Will Smith, the real Bennet Omalu and director Peter Landesman on the set of Columbia Pictures' 'Concussion.'
Dr. Bennet Omalu, Forensic Pathologist portrayed in the 'Concussion' movie by actor Will Smith addresses the audience before a screening of the film at Southside Works Cinema Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015.
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
Dr. Bennet Omalu, Forensic Pathologist portrayed in the 'Concussion' movie by actor Will Smith addresses the audience before a screening of the film at Southside Works Cinema Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015.
Dr. Bennet Omalu at his home in Wilkinsburg, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2007.
Dr. Bennet Omalu at his home in Wilkinsburg, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2007.
Dr. Bennet Omalu, forensic pathologist, Giannina Scott, president and CEO of Bennet Omalu Foundation/Producer of Concussion, and Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher, left, sign a memorandum of understanding, making the University the founding academic affiliate for the new Bennet Omalu Foundation before a screening of the film at Southside Works Cinema Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015.
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
Dr. Bennet Omalu, forensic pathologist, Giannina Scott, president and CEO of Bennet Omalu Foundation/Producer of Concussion, and Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher, left, sign a memorandum of understanding, making the University the founding academic affiliate for the new Bennet Omalu Foundation before a screening of the film at Southside Works Cinema Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015.

The forensic pathologist who identified the brain disease CTE in Pittsburgh expressed concern Friday that publicity surrounding the affliction is drawing attention away from other football-related head injuries.

"There has been so much fascination with CTE that we are going the wrong way," Dr. Bennet Omalu told ESPN . "CTE is just one disease in a spectrum of many diseases caused by brain trauma. If he doesn't have CTE, that doesn't mean he doesn't have brain damage. ... I've always said that every child who plays football has a 100 percent risk of exposure to brain damage. And I've always said that at a professional level, 100 percent would have brain damage of some kind to some degree. That's whether or not their brains are found to have CTE."

Omalu talked to ESPN as part of a promotional interview for his book, "Truth Doesn't Have a Side," to be published next week.

The former Allegheny County deputy coroner first diagnosed CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, after performing an autopsy on former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster in 2002.

His discovery was highlighted in the movie "Concussion" starring Will Smith.

Last month, findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that examinations of nearly 90 percent of the brains of 202 deceased football players showed varying degrees of CTE. Of those, 111 brains came from former NFL players, and 110 of those brains contained CTE. Families donated the brains for research.

Even a negative CTE result, Omalu said, does not mean a player's brain remained unscathed while playing football.

"There is no such thing as a safe blow to the head," he said. "And then when you have repeated blows to your head, it increases the risk of permanent brain damage. Once you start having hundreds or thousands of blows, there is a 100 percent risk of exposure to permanent brain damage. The brain does not have a reasonable capacity to regenerate. This is something we have always known."

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, bschmitt@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @Bencschmitt.

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