NHL’s Proffered Expert in Concussion Litigation Attacks Dr. Bennet Omalu’s CTE Findings; Omalu Says No Room for Debate

The controversial discourse around high-contact sports and their potential link to permanent brain damage in professional athletes is coming to a head again. This time, it comes after the director of the Center for Neuropathology at Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine, Rudolph J. Castellani, told a federal court that neuropathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu’s medical conclusions regarding the potential link were inaccurate.

Dr. Omalu, notoriously known for his research and findings on chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain condition often found in deceased football players, has been an instrumental advocate for the former NHL players who have filed a multidistrict suit against the NHL in Minnesota federal court by offering his medical research findings as evidence of the link between high contact sports and the disease. The dispute arose after the NHL issued a subpoena on the Boston University CTE Center for documents related to its research in the league’s concussion litigation. Specifically, the league sought additional information on one of the named plaintiffs after it learned the player had been diagnosed with CTE. The request, however, seeks information regarding all aspects of the Center’s research surrounding CTE, and is being fought by the former NHL players leading the proposed class (and whom have joined forces with the BU CTE Center) as overly burdensome and an invasion of privacy.

Dr. Omalu was on the defensive after Dr. Castellani, an expert proffered by the NHL, attacked the findings from Dr. Omalu’s 2005 scientific paper on Pittsburgh Steeler Hall of Famer Mike Webster, which concluded that the deceased player suffered from CTE and that this was likely an effect of head trauma sustained throughout the player’s football career. Dr. Omalu is not impressed by the NHL’s attempt to exploit Dr. Castellani’s medical background in suggesting “alternative facts” to refute the existence of a link between high-contact sports and the degenerative brain condition: “Dr. Castellani has every right to disagree with traumatic encephalopathy syndromes; that is his personal opinion… however, his personal opinion, cannot, and should not, and does not change the generally accepted principles of science and medicine that every human activity that exposes the human head and brain to blunt force trauma and acceleration-deceleration forces with or without a helmet, inside or outside sports, can cause brain damage, which can be permanent.”

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