by Irvin Muchnick
PREVIOUSLY: “Venture Capital For CTE Detection Key to ‘Concussion’ Movie’s Bennet Omalu’s Ethics-Challenged University of Pittsburgh Foundation,” January 6, https://concussioninc.net/?p=10645
I am not an expert on nonprofit law. As with all matters journalistic, I educate myself as I go, I seek experts to consult on the technicalities, and I openly invite more knowledgeable readers to lend a hand or simply weigh in themselves.
However, I do know how to read plain English — and I know that there is something fishy about the new Bennet Omalu Foundation at the University of Pittsburgh. This article further ponders the smell.
Our important new finding is that BOF is registered as a “T22” independent private foundation. Below is more on my understanding of the definition of this category of 501(c)(3) charitable organizations, and how the Omalu group seems to be deviating from it.
I have studied all the public tax returns of the old Brain Injury Research Institute in West Virginia. Everything there seemed to be on the up-and-up. That group, which is now either defunct or inactive, was started in 2010 by Dr. Julian Bailes (who was then on the medical school faculty at West Virginia University), Dr. Bennet Omalu, and Robert Fitzsimmons (attorney for Mike Webster’s estate). The institute raised little money; modest fees were invested in the services of a consultant, with modest returns. Fitzsimmons appears to have lent nearly $100,000 of his own money to the cause, for which he was never repaid.
The Bennet Omalu Foundation is a different animal. For starters, it is affiliated in some way with the University of Pittsburgh (the principals refuse to elaborate on the entities’ legal, financial, and logistical relationships). This is the most scarlet of red flags, since there is no more villianous institution in the recent history of football traumatic brain injury spin, cover-up, and profiteering.
For a second thing, the board of trustees is steeped in tinsel: almost all Hollywood pals of Omalu. Besides Bailes and Fitzsimmons, the board serves up Ridley Scott, the producer of Concussion’s amalgam of fact and fiction; his wife and co-producer Giannina Facio-Scott, also the foundation’s chief executive; director-screenwriter Peter Landesman; and Omalu magazine and book hagiographer Jeanne Marie Laskas.
For a third thing, there is the honored board presence of Bailes, medical director of Pop Warner Football. Even as Omalu is making the case against youth tackle football a major plank of his new platform as a public intellectual, Bailes is playing Greek chorus — but this is a chorus singing lies.
If Bailes manages to look himself in the mirror every morning while repeatedly opining, as a Hippocratic “expert,” that pee-wee pigskinning is safer than a lot of people think, then that is his problem. But there is a special circle of hell reserved for papier-mache scientists whose PowerPoint presentation includes the slide “no deaths in youth football.” And there should no place for such a voice at the Bennet Omalu Foundation. The citizens whom http://bennetomalufoundation.org/donate/ is soliciting, at button links of $25, $50, $100, $250, or $500 a pop, are not being pitched a body of parliamentarians or of random aspirants to the high school debate team. They are being sold on the supposed activist agenda of nouveau-celeb scientist Omalu.
This brings us to the structural mysteries surrounding the foundation’s T22 status.
The Urban Institute’s National Center for Charitable Statistics classifies T22’s, under “philanthrophy, volunteerism, and grantmaking foundations,” as “private independent foundations.” Here is the full description:
“Private foundations that make grants based on charitable endowments. Because of their endowments, they are focused primarily on grantmaking and generally do not actively raise funds or seek public financial support. These are the most common type of private foundation. They are generally endowed, usually from a single individual or family. Private foundations are considered family foundations if relatives or the original donor are still active on the board of trustees or in the operation of the foundation.” [italics added]
Think “Rockefeller Foundation”: wealth underpinning an endowment.
In the case of the Omalu Foundation, the title is honorific. Surely, Omalu himself is not the only, nor even anywhere close to the organization’s main, financial benefactor.
But the matter of endowments and grants is significant. Is BOF endowed, and if so, by whom and to what extent?
And equally important: To what end? The group is asking for small, medium, and large donations from the public — an unorthodox move for a T22 — and it is having it both ways as to whether that money will go toward public advocacy or toward grants to support research. The full language of the mission statement:
“The Bennet Omalu Foundation is committed to funding research, raising awareness, providing care, and finding cures for people suffering from CTE and TBI. Our goal is to advance the Humanity of Science.”
It is impossible to argue against such a “goal.” But the components, taken together — and with the unexplained involvement of the University of Pittsburgh and the unanswered blatherings of Julian Bailes — are of questionable integrity. The fact that Omalu has equity in the company licensing UCLA technology in the race to identify living victims of CTE only underscores that his foundation needs to reconcile the advocacy represented by the founder’s recent New York Times op-ed with his entreaties for research dollars.
Let me put it another way. Did the opponents of marketing cigarettes in media which are thrust at underage consumers simultaneously try to raise money for their leader’s proprietary work on cures for lung cancer?