Soon to be a major motion picture starring Will Smith,Concussion is the riveting, unlikely story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the pathologist who made one of the most significant medical discoveries of the twenty-first century, a discovery that challenges the existence of America’s favorite sport and puts Omalu in the crosshairs of football’s most powerful corporation: the NFL.
Jeanne Marie Laskas first met the young forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu in 2009, while reporting a story for GQ that would go on to inspire the movie Concussion. Omalu told her about a day in September 2002, when, in a dingy morgue in downtown Pittsburgh, he picked up a scalpel and made a discovery that would rattle America in ways he’d never intended. Omalu was new to America, chasing the dream, a deeply spiritual man escaping the wounds of civil war in Nigeria. The body on the slab in front of him belonged to a fifty-year-old named Mike Webster, aka “Iron Mike,” a Hall of Fame center for the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of the greatest ever to play the game. After retiring in 1990, Webster had suffered a dizzyingly steep decline. Toward the end of his life, he was living out of his van, tasering himself to relieve his chronic pain, and fixing his rotting teeth with Super Glue. How did this happen?, Omalu asked himself. How did a young man like Mike Webster end up like this? The search for answers would change Omalu’s life forever and put him in the crosshairs of one of the most powerful corporations in America: the National Football League. What Omalu discovered in Webster’s brain—proof that Iron Mike’s mental deterioration was no accident but a disease caused by blows to the head that could affect everyone playing the game—was the one truth the NFL wanted to ignore.
Taut, gripping, and gorgeously told, Concussion is the stirring story of one unlikely man’s decision to stand up to a multibillion-dollar colossus, and to tell the world the truth.
FTC Disclaimer: I received a copy of Concussion from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. No other compensation for this review was received. Opinions expressed are mine.
Author: Jeanne Marie Laskas
Genre: Nonfiction / Sports Medicine / Football / NFL
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks
Release Date: November 24, 2015
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
For weeks after receiving the digital advanced reader’s copy of Concussion from NetGalley, I questioned why I had requested it. Primarily a Sunday Night Football fan because I enjoy spending time with my husband, I do have favorite players and teams. But my understanding of the game is sorely lacking. Perhaps it was the medical research side of the story. Maybe the legal side of it. I put off reading it again and again in favor of something else.
A couple of days ago I decided to go ahead and read the book and review it as I had agreed to do. And then once I started reading it, I could not put it down! I mean it was a straight through read. My only difficulty in reading came during the telling of Bennet Omalu’s life story, and I’m not certain why that is. It did not in any way compromise my enjoyment of the rest of the book.
Jeanne Marie Laskas is not only a gifted writer but also an excellent investigative reporter. Beginning with an article in GQ Magazine about Dr. Omalu, Laskas’s reporting turned into the book I’m now reviewing, with a movie based on this story up for release this Christmas.
Concussion is a melding of many story lines, which Laskas weaves together in a masterful tapestry:
- A young Nigerian boy growing up with dreams of coming to America, clearly not understanding what America holds in contrast to his homeland.
- A mentor-mentee relationship between Bennet Omalu and Dr. Cyril Wecht, famous for his stance on the two-bullet theory of the JFK assassination.
- A young doctor working in the county medical examiner’s office encounters the death of an NFL football player and begins questioning why, leading him to the discovery of a never heard of condition, CTE.
- The proverbial opening of a can of worms with the NFL, its management and ownership, lawyers, experts, and more fighting to save what has been an American tradition for decades.
- One man fighting against a mountain of greed, graft, fraud, and lies.
There isn’t one thing I can critique in less than a positive way, and I thoroughly enjoyed every page turn on my Kindle. Never having read a Jeanne Marie Laskas book, I have found a new favorite author.
As you are aware, if you follow my blog regularly, I do not use a rating system. However, a book such as Concussion, which educates and entertains me to the level this one did, deserves a rating of five stars.
This is a book you must read if: You love football. You are a parent of children, boys and/or girls, with a dream of playing football. You are a concerned fan, parent, or physician. You don’t know enough about what has gone on behind the scenes in this ongoing investigation into head injuries in the NFL, college level, high school, or PeeWee Leagues. Even if you are not a fan of football, Laskas’s book will open your eyes to the damage done by multiple, repetitive concussions in any sport.
Meet Jeanne Marie Laskas:
Jeanne Marie Laskas is the author of seven books, including the forthcoming Concussion (Penguin Random House, 2015). Based on her 2009 GQ article “Game Brain,” Concussion is also soon to be a major motion picture starring Will Smith. Her other works include Hidden America (Putnam, 2012), as well as the award-winning trilogy of memoirs: Fifty Acres and Poodle (Bantam Dell, 2000), The Exact Same Moon (Bantam Dell, 2003), and Growing Girls (Bantam Dell, 2006). Most of her long form journalism now appears in GQ, where she is a correspondent writing about everything from concussions to migrant workers to hit-men. Formerly a contributing editor at Esquire, and a weekly columnist(“Significant Others”) at The Washington Post Magazine, she has been writing for national magazines for 20 years, with work appearing in The New York Times Magazine, Smithsonian Magazine, O: The Oprah Magazine, Allure, Ladies Home Journal, and many others. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including Best American Magazine Writing 2008 and Best American Sportswriting 2000, 2002, 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2012. She has won more than a dozen Gold Quill awards for Excellence in Journalism, and her piece on coal mining, “Underworld,” was a finalist for the 2007 National Magazine Awards. Her earliest essays and features are compiled in The Balloon Lady and Other People I Know (Duquesne, 1996). Laskas serves as Director of The Writing Program at the University of Pittsburgh, where she teaches creative writing, and she lives on a horse farm in Pennsylvania with her husband and two children.