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Doctor who inspired 'Concussion' describes role faith played in his work
Dr. Bennet Omalu attends a special screening of "Concussion" at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015, in New York. - photo by Kelsey Dallas
Dr. Bennet Omalu, whose research into how football can damage players' brains inspired the forthcoming film "Concussion," says his discovery wouldn't have happened without his faith.

In a 2013 PBS Frontline interview, the forensic pathologist and practicing Catholic described how his religious beliefs inspired him to keep working even after National Football League leaders called him a fraud. Omalu was the first to identify chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a brain disease that results from repeated head trauma.

"My perception is, again spiritually, (that) the truth shall set you free," he told Frontline's Michael Kirk. "I'd rather want to be told the truth, and I will deal with the truth, than be wallowing in ignorance and darkness and lies."

Omalu discovered CTE by chance. While working in Pittsburgh, he autopsied former Steeler center Mike Webster, whose death at age 50 captured national attention. Omalu told Kirk that he approached the former player's body with the respect he brings to work each day.

"I am a spiritual person. I'm a Catholic. I treat my patients, the dead patients, as live patients," Omalu said.

After studying Webster's brain, Omalu suspected that the repeated head trauma the offensive lineman endured caused previously undetected damage.

"I said to him, 'Mike, you need to help me. You need to help me. Let's prove them wrong. You are a victim of football,'" Omalu said.

He worked with brain researchers to isolate Webster's brain abnormalities, relating the damage to what happens in boxers' brains. After his initial research was published, Omalu faced backlash from NFL officials and football fans alike, as told in the 2013 book, "League of Denial."

He told Frontline that resistance to his findings made him want to give up.

"I called (my sister), and I said, 'You know what? I'm getting tired.' And she called me out immediately and said, 'No, Bennet.' She is religious, too. She said, 'You think it's by chance that this is happening. Everybody has a calling, (and) the mighty God doesn't give you a cross to bear by reckless abandon. He gives you a cross to bear because he knows you can bear that cross."

"Concussion" explores how Omalu's work affected football as well as his own life. During the Frontline interview, he admitted to missing his quiet life before the Webster autopsy but said his faith helps him feel grateful for speaking up to save future football players.

"There is nothing in life that is more important than the life of somebody, even just one. You know the parable of the lost sheep. One sheep got lost. The parable, the shepherd kept 99 and went after the one. It is that one life lost is more valuable than any other activity," Omalu said.
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