On Eve of ‘Concussion’ Movie, the Affiliated Bennet Omalu Foundation Raises Questions of Both Science and Ethics

Published December 15th, 2015, Uncategorized

by Irvin Muchnick

 

 

Bennet Omalu’s promo tour for the movie Concussion, with Oscar-hopeful Will Smith portraying him with a bad West African accent, went today to Pittsburgh, the national capital of both “concussion awareness” and chronic traumatic encephalopathy denial.

Omalu is on hand for a screening of the film at the SouthSide Works Cinema to launch the Bennet Omalu Foundation.

To his credit, Omalu has accompanied the movie hype with a call for the end of youth football. Last week he published a New York Times op-ed piece on this subject, and he has reinforced the theme in broadcast interviews.

Like the actual movie, however, the Omalu Foundation is full of cognitive dissonance: questions of mixed messages, efficacy, conflicts of interest, and nepotism.

“Our goal is to enhance the humanity of science,” the website mission statement trumpets with the usual grandiosity. But drill a little deeper to the composition of the board of trustees, the foundation’s affiliation with the University of Pittsburgh, and the description of its projected and redundant work, and the enterprise smells a whole lot like more of the same. Omalu should know as well as anyone that more Big Science does not equal better or more humanistically delivered science. It’s clear that his vanity and Hollywood celebrity are setting up followers for a cliche about an ultimate outsider who became an ultimate insider.

Kimberly Archie — a legal consultant and youth sports activist who herself lost a 24-year-old former football player son whose brain, in death, was found to have CTE — commented: “It all looks like a net to collect money from the emotions evoked by the movie without doing the right thing for children.”

As we’ve been reporting, a central beef with the foundation is the presence of Julian Bailes, who issues inexcusable “no youth deaths” trutherisms and other newfangled safety whitewash and hogwash as the medical director of Pop Warner Football.

But there are a lot of other things also wrong with the Bennet Omalu Foundation.

Today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette coverage of the foundation launch says the principals “couldn’t talk about funding yet.” The article notes that the president and CEO is Giannina Scott, “a Concussion producer.” The newspaper doesn’t add that she is the Costa Rican actress also known as Giannina Facio, and that no one will say what qualifies her for the position or what her salary will be. Facio-Scott is the wife of the main producer of the movie, heavyweight director Ridley Scott. Foundation sinecures, of course, are a common trick of the plutocracy.

(Yesterday Ken Service, the University of Pittsburgh’s vice chancellor for communications, promised that in response to questions I had submitted, I would be contacted today by the local public relations firm managing the foundation launch event. I heard back from no one.)

Another fundamental puzzler is the Omalu Foundation’s representation as “University of Pittsburgh” — along with literature about its renowned Brain Institute. Not, mind you, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC). Since the PR flacks have blacked us out, we’re allowed to speculate that Pitt, the most powerful health care provider and employer in the region (indeed, Western Pennsylvania’s leading growth industry), is now so influential that it can pick and choose the nomenclature for fundraising platforms.

There would seem to be good reason for the Omalu Foundation to keep its distance from UPMC. The med center’s National Football League-affiliated doctors tried to vilify and marginalize Omalu — a major element of the Concussion movie narrative (though it remains to be seen how much that element got diluted from the finished product after NFL pushback against Sony Pictures executives following screenings of earlier versions). Movie bad guy Dr. Joseph Maroon of UPMC, portrayed in the film by Arliss Howard, not only denied Omalu’s findings on the brain autopsy of Pittsburgh Steelers great Mike Webster; Maroon also provably lied in stating that another prematurely dead, CTE-stricken player, Terry Long, had never had a documented concussion in his pro football career.

My 2012 ebook, UPMC: Concussion Scandal Ground Zero, exposed multifarious nefariousness by Maroon and his cronies — including the conflicts-plagued and unethically marketed ImPACT concussion management system; the criminal bust of a Steelers and UPMC doc for massive purchases of human growth hormone from the Internet gray market Signature Pharmacy; and Maroon’s controversies with the WWE pro wrestling corporation and huckster unregulated supplement side businesses.

*****

More here shortly on the awful Julian Bailes’ dual hats as Omalu’s sidekick in the movie (as portrayed by Alec Baldwin) and as medical director-apologist for Pop Warner Football.

More, too, on Brooke de Lench and MomsTeam. Though de Lench did not respond to our request for comment on the story of her 501(c)(3) “nonprofit’s” murky marketing partnership with Concussion, she did appear to energetically kickstart, then withdraw, a splendid trolling campaign against me via her invitation-only @teambinder Twitter account.

 

 

 

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