While it’s not a big role, Stephen Moyer’s portrayal of Dr. Robert Hamilton is one that is important to the story and to Dr. Omalu since Dr. Hamilton was the one to recognized the importance of Dr. Omalu’s findings.
Dr. Hamilton still remembers the day in late 2002 when his former student called him up and asked to meet.
“I’ve got a really interesting case,” Omalu told his mentor. “I’d love to show it to you.”
Thinkprogress.org interviewed Dr. Hamilton and the results of the interview are presented below:
At the time, Omalu, a forensic pathologist from Nigeria, was working at a coroner’s office in Pennsylvania. While Webster’s 2002 death was initially attributed to a heart attack, Omalu refused to believe that was the true cause; he was struck by the deteriorated state of Webster’s physique and the dramatic way his life had fallen apart. Omalu knew that brain damage had to be present in this case, so even after the initial brain scans came back negative, Omalu kept searching for answers. Using his own money, he ordered test after test, and eventually discovered brain damage similar to that found in boxers.
Omalu presented the slides of Webster’s brain to Hamilton without providing any background information, and Hamilton came to the same conclusion — this looked similar to dementia pugilistica, a trauma associated with boxers since the 1920s. Hamilton, who is played by Stephen Moyer in the film, wasn’t shocked when Omalu told him that the brain actually belonged to a former NFL player. He was, however, shocked when Omalu told him the discovery had never been published before.
“That’s when my heart started racing, my jaw dropped to the ground,” Hamilton told me in a recent phone interview. “I said,
‘Oh my God, Bennet, you don’t know how big this is.’ I knew he didn’t know American culture.”
Hamilton knew that Omalu had to be very careful about presenting what he considered a “slam-dunk case,” because he knew that the publishing the findings would create controversy. But he was still surprised by the extent of the NFL’s pushback — particularly the initial letter from NFL doctors asking for the study to be retracted and calling the findings “completely fallacious.”
And though the NFL has gotten more serious about the issue recently, establishing a concussion protocol that includes spotters in the stands and examinations by independent doctors, Hamilton knows that there is a long way to go, particularly when it comes to educating the public on the issue.
Before he watched Concussion, Hamilton said that he hoped it would “bring a truth” to the audience. “Unvarnished,” he said. “Not distorted.”
The truth, as told by Hamilton and Omalu, is that repetitive sub-concussive hits sustained in football cause trauma which leads to CTE, a progressive and debilitating brain disease that can result in dementia, severe depression, violent mood swings, and delusions.
CTE is the reason once proud and charismatic Webster spent his final days alone and in pain, hopped up on a cocktail of pain medications and sleeping in a truck with broken windows covered by garbage bags. CTE is the reason the once fun-loving and thoughtful Strzelczyk sped up Interstate 79 in New York one afternoon, stopped at a gas station to offer crucifixes and cash to strangers, and then raced through oncoming traffic, dodging cars until he hit a tanker going 90 miles per hour.
Hamilton got his wish. While the protagonist of the film is Omalu, an immigrant with numerous degrees and endearing quirks who just wants to be embraced by America, and the antagonist is the NFL, the heart of the film is the unsettling but blatant fact that the most popular sport in America is leading directly to the downfall and death of some of the idols it creates.
We’re very happy that Stephen Moyer decided to take this part in such a groundbreaking and important film and know it will be a turning point that insures the warning signs of the disease don’t go unchecked by the NFL.
Learn more about Dr. Hamilton here: upmc.edu