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"Concussion" Shines Light on Football Hits and CTE

freeimages.com/Jennifer Marr

The film Concussion opens on Christmas Day.

It tells the true story of a Dr. Bennet Omalu , a forensic pathologist who fought against efforts by the NFL to suppress his research on the brain damage suffered by professional football players.

Omalu was the first to link these repetitive injuries to CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive, degenerative brain disease with symptoms that include cognitive impairment, memory loss, depression, and in some cases suicidal thoughts or behavior.

Jeff Bazarian, M.D. M.P.H., professor of emergency medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center, is afraid people might get the wrong idea when they see the film.                 

"I think folks will probably come away thinking, 'Oh, my God, football equals CTE, and I don't think that's the case. There are many thousands of people who play contact sports who don't get CTE. There are some who do, and we need to understand how that happens."

Dr. Bazarian treats athletes from across Western New York who are recovering from concussions. He says concussions themselves are treatable with medication and physical therapy, but believes some people don’t understand that or more would come forward.

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Dr. Bazarian believes it may not be the concussions, but the thousands of repetitive head hits that football players take and aren’t tracked, which might be the bigger problem.

"We've got to understand how a football player who gets hit two-thousand times in one season ends up being demented twenty years later,” he said. “How do we get from a normal functioning brain to one that is not functioning twenty years later? If we can understand that transition, we can understand how to interrupt it and prevent dementia."

When asked if he would let his child play football, Dr. Bazarian said it’s a matter of weighing the benefits versus the risks.

"I kind of know what the benefits may be for my child, but that may be different for other people who may see the benefit of football as being different. It may be the root out of poverty or the path to an education."