Hollywood doesn’t just make movies about anybody. Usually, you have to do something pretty exceptional to make someone like Will Smith want to play you.
Meet Dr. Bennet Omalu, the Nigerian-born doctor who against all odds became a central figure in the conversation around how concussions affect athletes who suffer them – youth, pro or otherwise. Omalu is the centerpiece of the new dramatic thriller, Concussion, opening in theaters on December 25. (Read our review of the film here.)
Based on a true story, Concussion is about how a billion-dollar corporation defrauded fans and players while silencing the doctor who discovered their deadly secret. The doctor is Omalu and the billion-dollar corporation… that sport you watch on Sundays. It’s David vs. Goliath.
Not surprisingly, going up against an American institution that “owns a day of the week” (as the Albert Brooks-character puts it in the trailer) led to challenges when it came to Omalu getting his work legitimized by the league. About as easy as, say, trying score a game-winning touchdown from the two.
To understand how this extraordinary individual came to be an American hero of sorts, here’s a quick snapshot. He was born in Nigeria during the Biafran Civil War, the sixth of seven siblings. He entered medical school rather precociously at age 15. By 21, he was a physician. After being discouraged by the political climate in his native Nigeria, Omalu made his way to the U.S. in 1994 at age 26 with merely $250 in his pocket. He viewed America as “the place where God sent all his favorite people.”
It was only a few years later when Omalu landed at the Allegheny County coroner’s office in Pittsburgh – in the job that would eventually change his life and for some, the perception behind how America’s most popular professional sport gets played.