“Whatever Happened to the Bennet Omalu Foundation at the University of Pittsburgh?”, November 14, https://concussioninc.net/?p=11572
“‘Concussion’ Movie Director, Along With Doc Portrayed by Alec Baldwin, Are Out at University of Pittsburgh’s Inactive Bennet Omalu Foundation,” November 20, https://concussioninc.net/?p=11579
“Bennet Omalu Foundation’s Twitter Account Appears To Be Scrubbed,” November 21, https://concussioninc.net/?p=11584
by Irvin Muchnick
In a brief telephone interview with Concussion Inc., the University of Pittsburgh’s interim news director, Joseph John Miksch, said the affiliate institution of the Bennet Omalu Foundation is looking into the situation with the group’s website and status.
In the last 24 hours, the foundation seems to have killed its website and Twitter. A Facebook page, last updated in September, remains live.
The complete unraveling of the foundation’s public presence unfolded rapidly in the wake of our reports that it had raised little outside support in the period of the December 2015 opening of the movie Concussion, which starred Will Smith as Omalu in a fanciful, though broadly factual, account of the forensic pathologist’s early 2000s discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in autopsies of football players.
Since the film sank at the box office and garnered no Academy Awards attention, the foundation became inactive. Members of the board of trustees won’t even say if they have met a single time. Last week both Peter Landesman, the director of Concussion, and Dr. Julian Bailes, the Omalu research partner who was portrayed by Alec Baldwin, left the board. And yesterday the plug was pulled on the website at http://BennetOmaluFoundation.org and the Twitter account @omalufoundation.
A recent nonprofit filing with the Internal Revenue Service shows that movie producer Ridley Scott, through two of his companies, donated start-up funding of, respectively, $15,520 and $10,000. The first amount was turned around for “website design.” The second amount went toward “strategic communications.”
Small donors raised an additional $2,822 last year. The figures for 2016 are due to be disclosed in the group’s next Form 990 filing with the IRS, which could be in April 2017, or after extensions, as late as October.
Among the questions left open by the Bennet Omalu Foundation’s apparent demise is whether it is obliged to refund small donations or otherwise account for how they were used. If the fundraising wound up modest, then it will be difficult to label this initiative as a significant scam. But in its hype, relating only to the movie and Omalu’s cult of personality, the foundation ranks high on the list of sleazy exploitation and downright intellectual frauds in the history of the “Concussion Inc.” ecosystem of “cures” for football’s public health menace.
The board consisted entirely of figures connected to Concussion movie commerce, and one of its members, Bailes, is the medical director of Pop Warner Football. In that capacity, Bailes expressed a viewpoint in direct contradiction with Omalu’s own, sporadically stated, opposition to youth football, and even lied in talking points that there were “no reported deaths” at the sport’s starter level.
Small donors aren’t the only supporters who might be wondering what happened. Tia McNeill, widow of the Minnesota Vikings linebacker Fred McNeill, was “executive director” of the “advisory board,” which had no other listed members. Tia McNeill was used last winter in the joint publicity campaign for the movie opening and the foundation launch, most notably via an interview for People magazine, two months after Fred’s death from Lou Gehrig’s Disease and dementia. Concussion Inc. is still trying to contact her.
Though the Bennet Omalu Foundation seems all but officially dead, Bennet Omalu Pathology is still online, marketing his consulting services. Like Will Smith in the first scene of Concussion, this website recites the expert and humanist’s eight postgraduate degrees: “Bennet Omalu, MD, MBA, MPH, CPE, DABP-AP, CP, FP, NP.”
On his personal Twitter site, Omalu last Friday posted a photo of Bailes introducing him for presentation of the 2016 D. Walter Cohen National Disease Research Interchange’s Service to Science Award.