The film “Concussion” tells the story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic neuropathologist, who made the first discovery of CTE, a football-related brain trauma, in a pro player and fought for the truth to be known.
In this David vs. Goliath story of an American—he only received his citizenship this year—Nigerian immigrant Dr. Omalu did not back down when he was threatened by one of the most powerful institutions in the world, the NFL. Because of his brilliance and being black, Dr. Omalu was even accused of practicing voodoo.
In an exclusive interview, Dr. Bennet Omalu talked about threats, accusations of practicing voodoo, struggles with depression and the love of a good woman.
READ THIS RELATED STORY: Dr. Bennet Omalu on How ‘Concussion’ is About America’s Story of Truth [EUR Exclusive]
Bennet, not to take anything away from your brilliance, education, and hard work, but this movie makes me think you were chosen to do this?
You’re one of the first people to bring this up. The answer to that is actually yes, it’s true. I think there were factors that brought me to Mike Webster. I mean I was at the top of my game, so I was able to think in very complex ways that most other people wouldn’t think. That was why at some point some people were actually saying I was practicing voodoo. I was a man of deep faith, I believed in the truth and God is truth.
I believe that God uses people. God prepares people and uses them as a vessel of peace, an instrument of peace for other people. And in the fullness of time, just like the God sent his son to redeem the world. In the fullness of time, the truth would prevail. I don’t think it was a coincident that I was the doctor who was on duty the day Mike Webster died.
We knew why he died, and there was no need for me to do an autopsy. There was no need for me to examine his brain. But again, my faith and belief caused me to dig deep for the truth, and the truth will set you free.
That might be true, but the NFL was threatening you, your wife and unborn child, and suggesting you leave everything you worked for behind. Yet, you weren’t afraid?
And He [Jesus] said he would be with us until the end of time. He’s above every principality, ever power, every authority, everyone in high places. He is preeminent. You should not be afraid, for I shall be with you till the end of time.
Would you admit to being a superhero?
[Laughing hysterically] I’m not a superhero. I think America collectively gave me the opportunity to express myself, be myself and become an American. America is the superhero in the movie.
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What do you think of Will Smith’s portrayal of you?
About ten minute after watching him, I didn’t know what happened to me. It turned from association to transformation, I became totally lost into the moment. I was embedded in the Omalu I saw on the screen. So I was in the movie myself. I no longer saw Will Smith. I was seeing Bennet Omalu on the screen. My wife said, ‘OMG, Maybe I should now be answering to Mrs. Smith’ [Laughs]. He did such a good job that it makes me proud to be part of the American family. You don’t know what is it until you’re an immigrant, who hungers to be part of the American story.
Director Peter Landesman said it was your wife Prema. played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, that made him realize what this movie is really about, the love and relationship between the two of you?
Yes, my wife was like that silent energy that nobody saw. You never see her around but she’ll call me and [give me tips].
In the film you listened to ‘Love T.K.O.’ and ‘Close the Door’ while performing autopsies. Are you a fan of Teddy Pendergrass, and anyone else you listen to?
I was young ad believed in romantic songs. I love Teddy. It calmed me because the type of work I did was very morbid so I needed some type of ambience, some kind of relaxing environment and mood for me to focus. I also listen to Bob Marley and Peabo Bryson.
You have a degree in music. How did that come about?
I never wanted to go to medical school because I wanted to become a pilot. I wanted to live a very easy life, studying languages, studying music, but I was a very smart kid and parents in those days in Nigeria sent the smartest kids to medical school. In my second year of medical school I suffered from major depression. All my life I struggled with depression but I knew that the light of God would set me free and it did. In fact, it was my experience with depression that made me empathize with Mike Webster.
Did you ever think about going into the ministry?
I don’t think I’m called to be a minister but I can tell my story to minister to people, like this movie. This movie will minister to you when you go to see it. This movie will appeal to your sense of humanity. God will always be preeminent in all things. Things may not work out the way we want it, and it may take a long time to come, but rest assured it will come. Does that make sense?
Yes, it makes real sense. Is it your faith that keeps you grounded?
There but for the grace of God go I. I’m as ordinary as anyone else. The only thing I have is my faith. Even the good works in me is through the grace of God. And that’s what this movie is about. It’s not anti-football. It’s not a war against football, no! God gave me the gift of knowledge, of education, which doesn’t make me better than anybody. So I choose to use my knowledge and education as an instrument of God’s peace to bring God’s love to people, to become the voice for the voiceless, not by my own might but by the grace of God.
Syndicated Entertainment journalist Marie Moore reports on film and TV from her New York City base. Contact her at email@example.com
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