by Irvin Muchnick
The accomplishments of the first year of the Bennet Omalu Foundation at the University of Pittsburgh — which was established to build on Will Smiths Hollywood vehicle Concussion — appear to consist entirely of a website celebrating the eponymous medical researcher who first explained the impact on football players of the disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
There is no evidence that the foundation intends to do any serious advocacy on behalf of the systematic downsizing of youth football or public football. And even the websites line of familiar Omalu hype came to a halt four months ago, and just before the start of the first football season since the movie reached its audience.
These are the findings of Concussion Inc.s examination of the foundation, which was launched on the eve of the movies opening on Christmas 2015. Our report is based on tax records and the websites still-sparse content.
Last year we published a series of articles during the period of the launch. Headline links to those pieces are at the bottom of this piece. For those of you who wish to jump to my review of the film itself, published the day after it opened, see https://concussioninc.net/?p=10614.
At the time, I wrote that the Bennet Omalu Foundation posed ethical questions, first in its very branding: The University of Pittsburgh is the institution most closely identified both with the football industrys denial of its staggering public health toll and with the research and development of commercial solutions.
In addition, the Omalu groups board of trustees is comprised almost entirely of Hollywood cronies: the husband-and-wife producer team of Ridley Scott and Giannina Facio, writer-director Peter Landesman, and Jeanne Marie Laskas, author of the magazine article and book on which the movie is based.
Perhaps most problematically, the board also includes Omalus long-time sidekick Dr. Julian Bailes, whose viewpoint seems influenced by his position as medical director of Pop Warner Football. Bailes, portrayed in the film by Alec Baldwin, has continued to state, without refutation by Omalu or other trustees, that there have been no deaths in youth football over the last generation, when in fact there have been more than three dozen.
By email, I sought answers from both Omalu and Laskas to six questions on the foundations finances and activities, as well as general comments or updates. (Laskas, as vice president and secretary of the foundation, had signed its Form 990, the Internal Revenue Services tax filing for nonprofit organizations, which was prepared in July and submitted in August.) Neither responded.
According to its accounting to the government, the Bennet Omalu Foundation logged contributions of $28,342 in 2015. The overwhelming share of these proceeds came from donations of Ridley Scott Films, Inc. ($15,520) and Scotts affiliated production company Scott Free, Inc. ($10,000).
It is not clear how much of the remaining less than $3,000 in smaller and unspecified donations came via the BennetOmaluFoundation.org website.
The exact total of the Ridley Scott and Scott Free donations, $25,520, is also listed as expenditures of professional fees. The $15,520 sum is for website design. The $10,000 sum is for strategic communications. The contractors of these services are not named.
The seven trustees are listed as having put in no hours and receiving no compensation.
A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article about the foundation launch last December stated that there was no information on where it would be located. (Officially, the organization is domiciled in Wheeling, West Virginia. Previously, Omalu had partnered with Bailes on the West Virginia Brain Injury Research Institute, which is either the Omalu foundations actual predecessor legal entity, or effectively so. Bob Fitzsimmons, the West Virginia lawyer who represents the family of the late Mike Webster — whose autopsy finding of CTE by Omalu drives the narrative of the Concussion book and movie — is a foundation trustee, and a West Virginia accountant prepared the tax return.)
One of my unanswered questions to Omalu and Laskas is whether the board of trustees has held any meetings in the first ten-plus months of 2016, and if so, when and where.
BennetOmaluFoundation.org looks to be untouched from the day it went went live, except for a handful of links to news stories. The most recent was a July 1 article in the Sacramento Bee about the naming of Omalu for the United States Sports Academys Dr. Ernest Jokl Sports Medicine Award. Prior to that, I count six links in 2016 to the same kinds of general news reports on the concussion issue in football that can be easily found in numerous other places, including at a site operated by the National Football League.
The most recent content addition to the foundations Facebook account, in September, emphasizes Omalus view that helmets do not prevent concussions.
The foundations last original contribution on Twitter, in July, promoted the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise funds for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) research.
Conspicuous by its absence at BennetOmaluFoundation.org is Omalus December 7, 2015, New York Times op-ed essay headlined Dont Let Kids Play Football. Nor does the website have any mention of work aimed at advancing public conversation in this area. The foundation says its mission is 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. Button links process online donations in suggested amounts of $25, $50, $100, $250, or $500.
As we reported in January at https://concussioninc.net/?p=10655, the group is organized as a T22 independent private foundation — a category usually used for eponymous foundations undergirded by personal wealth, such as the Rockefeller Foundation.
Tia McNeill, widow of Fred McNeill, the retired Minnesota Vikings linebacker who last year died at 63 from ALS and dementia, is listed as the executive director of the Bennet Omalu Foundations advisory board. No other advisory board members are listed. Concussion Inc. will be seeking comment from McNeill.
OUR SERIES ON THE CONCUSSION MOVIE