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American Footballs' Concussion Crisis; Concussion Crisis Hangs Over. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired August 23, 2018 - 14:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:05] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Coming up, we're looking back at some of our favorite interviews this year. In
this edition, American football season starts up again next month and we want to highlight the serious warnings about the concussion crisis with NFL
Hall of Famer Brett Favre and Dr. Bennet Omalu who first discovered CTE, the brain disease caused by blows to the head.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
America's favorite sport a multi-being dollar industry is under mounting scrutiny for the head injuries it causes, concussions and CTE, which is
chronic traumatic encephalopathy. It's degenerative brain disease which has ended careers and even some player's lives. Rugby, boxing and even
soccer also make this a worldwide phenomenon that all parents can easily identify with.
The 2015 film "Concussion" starring Will Smith brought this crisis to light. He played the doctor who discovered CTE and told of his uphill
struggling to get the NFL to recognize it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILL SMITH, ACTOR: If you continue to deny my work, the world will deny my work. But men, your men, continue to die. Their families left in ruins.
Tell the truth. Tell truth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: It is powerful stuff. And just ahead of this year's Super Bowl, I spoke to dr. Bennet Omalu and Brett Favre, one of America's most
prominent players and a Hall of Fame quarterback. He suffered back concussion in his very last game. Their stories and their warnings are
relevant and vital as the next American football season is about to get under way in just two weeks' time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Brett Favre and Dr. Bennet Omalu, welcome to the program.
DR. BENNET OMALU, NFL CONCUSSION EXPERT: Thank you so much.
BRETT FAVRE, FORMER NFL PLAYER, QUARTERBACK: Yes, thank you for having us.
AMANPOUR: It's great to see you both. And you, Brett, are a Hall of Famer, you're a legendary in your sport. And I just wanted to ask you
first, what thoughts are going through your mind right now, given that in a couple of days we'll be watching the Super Bowl?
FAVRE: Oh, there's a game? This is the time of the year when I do miss the game. Often, I get asked, do I miss it, this is the time where I think
all players who spent any time in the NFL would say that they miss the game. So, it should be an interesting matchup. And you know, New England
has been there before and before and before, and this will be a test for Philadelphia, but I'm excited about it.
AMANPOUR: So just quickly, before I dig deeper into the concussion, what's your prediction Brett? Who's going to win?
FAVRE: Well my good friend, longtime friend, dear friend of mine is the head coach for Philadelphia, and that's Doug Pederson, great guy. He's
done a wonderful job there. And I'm pulling for him. But I would say, I'm not a betting man, but if I were it would be hard to bet against Bill
Belichick, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. They continue to prevail year in and year out. So, I don't really have an answer for you.
AMANPOUR: I see your heart is split, your head it split. But, you know, you say you miss it. In a way I kind of understand, but I'm surprised as
well because of the injury that you suffered and the incredible, you know, crisis around NFL and head injuries. Do you -- are you scared that
somebody out there on the field, on Sunday, might suffer a terrible injury to the head?
FAVRE: Yes, and when I say I miss it, I don't -- what I miss is the fellowship with the guys. I don't miss the physical part of it. I don't
miss the mental stress that is required day in and day out, year in and year out. And now, with all of the concussion hysteria, if you will, over
the last five to eight years, my last play as a NFL football player was a major concussion.
And before then, concussions were not as serious an issue or thought to be as serious as they are now. Of course, Doctor Omalu is responsible for
that greatly. And it's very frightening, because here is one of the things that were made more aware of today, and that when I say major concussion,
if you would've asked me eight years ago how many concussions I had during my playing career, I would probably have said two maybe three.
And I am talking about where I lost consciousness for five seconds, 10 seconds, a minute. But what we're finding out, and Dr. Omalu obviously can
touch on this in much more detail, is that the old saying in football was "I got my bell rung." Well having your bell rung, seeing stars, seeing
fireworks, ringing in the ears, things of that nature, hundreds maybe thousands of times I can say that that happened to me, and that's what
we're starting to discover is a concussion. And so, that is very frightening and it's not a good thing. So, I am very fearful of what the
future will bring.
AMANPOUR: Let me turn to you now, Dr. Omalu then, the same question that I asked Brett to start with. Are you worried as you prepare maybe to sit
down in front of the TV on Super Bowl Sunday, maybe you won't watch it. Are you concerned about it?
OMALU: Well yes. Thank you, Christiane. I stopped watching football about five years ago, because I just couldn't get myself to watch it as a
physician and a brain expert. In every play of football there is a blow to the head, in fact a paper recently came out from Stanford University that
showed, that in just one game of football, a player is exposed to about 50 to 60 violent blows to the head. And some of those blows are like a car
traveling at 30 miles an hour slamming into a brick wall.
And so, we need to realize that it's not about concussions. You could play you just one game, like on Super Bowl Sunday, after just one game, many of
those players have suffered every powerful brain damage.
AMANPOUR: Brett, I would like to play just this short clip from the documentary "Shocked" that you executive produced and that you are in and
it's just been released.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FAVRE: The guy just kind of bumps into me, harmless hit, no big deal. And as I'm falling to the turf, the side of my head hits the turf and bam, the
lights were out. My next memory was of our trainer who was shaking me, "Come on, buddy." And I just remember snoring. And I kind of came to, I
said, "Hey, was I snoring?" He said, "Yes. You had a concussion." And then, it was -- it started kind of like, you know, what just happened here.
And got up and he said, "Hey. Hey, buddy. You were out about 10, 20 seconds."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Brett is really dramatic and that was the last play of your career and that was when you knew that you had suffered concussion. Take
us back to that day.
FAVRE: Yes, it was a cold, very cold day. We played at the University of Minnesota, because the Metrodome had collapsed. And so, it was extremely
cold, the field was icy, it was very hard. And I was closing in on 41 years old. As I was standing on the sidelines, I thought, you know, if
there was ever a writing on the wall, this is it.
Again, concussions are never -- there's never a good time to have them, but at 40 years old, if I questioned whether or not I should come back and
play, at that point right then and there I knew it was time to leave the game because concussions just started, they just implemented the new
protocol or the only protocol for concussion in the NFL. And so, the talk just started kind of heating up. And so, I knew that this was not a good
AMANPOUR: Can you describe for me your symptoms? Have they got worse since then, over the last eight years, and does it make you afraid?
FAVRE: I am afraid of not only my future, but of other players, like Dr. Omalu said, intentionally playing a game, knowing that the repercussions
could be life-threatening.
So, you know, I have -- and in that documentary, I spoke about my three grandsons, I have one who's eight, three and a newborn, and they have not
decided yet -- at least the eight-year-old, has not decided to play football. I'm not going to encourage him to play football. I am not
saying I would discourage him, but I would be cringing every time that I saw my grandson get tackled, because I know physically what's at stake.
I'm able to function, the way I so choose, at least up to this point. I stay active, but, you know, again, I refer to Dr. Omalu and what he has
talked about in depth. Tomorrow may be totally different and tomorrow I may not remember who I am, I may not know where I live, and that's the
frightening thing for us football players.
AMANPOUR: Right. And Dr. Omalu, I see you reacting to that. You discovered CTE. You discovered this chronic traumatic injury to the brain
in 2002, when a Hall of Famer, essentially arrived on your autopsy table. Take us back to that moment.
OMALU: Yes, Ms. Christiane. Thank you so much. You know, I am being becoming emotional because this was similar to (ph), Bob Mike Webster.
Mike Webster after retirement exited (ph) via this downward spiral, but nobody understood it. In fact, he was sort of victimized, ridiculed.
So my autopsy table -- I am a Christian, I am also a physician. I practice my faith in my science, and my science in my faith. I saw Mike Webster as
I would see my father. Just like Brett is talking now, I am becoming emotional. These guys are human beings and nobody had answers for Mike
Webster and his family. And I said to Mike, "Mike, guide me to the trip. I will do everything within my means to rehabilitate you, to vindicate
When I opened up his skull, his brain looked normal. Going by my science I would have stopped there, but it was my faith that pushed me through, kept
on prodding me, "Bennet, keep on going. You need to identify the truth to vindicate us all." This is not about concussions. This is about each and
every intentional blow you receive to your head, with or without a helmet.
If you play these games, even just for one season, you have a higher risk of dying young before the age of 42 to violent means. You have over a 46
times increased risk of committing suicide, of suffering from psychiatry illnesses including depression, suffering from disinhibition, becoming a
drug addict, abusing alcohol, losing your intelligence, losing your memory, losing your ability to engage in complex thinking.
You are more likely to drop out of high school, not to attend college. You are less likely to keep a job as an adult. And that is why it has always
been my position, knowing what we know today, there is no justifiable reason whatsoever that any child under the age 18 should continue to play
AMANPOUR: Well, obviously, it is a very controversial choice. And I want to play a little bit of the film "Concussion" that was about you starring
Will Smith and is about the Mike Webster incident.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SMITH: The man in the middle is quite deceptively the most violent position on the middle. He slaps, he punches the forearm. It is an
unremitting storm of sudden concussive blows. He hit as a weapon on every single play of every single game and every single practice from the time he
was a little boy doing college math, culminating in an 18-year professional career. By my calculations, Mike Webster sustained more than 70,000 blows
to his head.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And so, just to point out the graphics, CTE has been found in 99 percent of deceased NFL players brains that were donated to scientific
research. This is according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. It was identified in 110 out of 111former NFL players.
So, I guess now the question to both of you, and let me ask you, Brett, how does one make the game safer? And are the ways that the NFL has responded
FAVRE: I think, first of all, how do you make the game safer? You don't play. You know, I mean, is that going to happen? No, I think NFL is here
to stay, obviously. And that being said, I think we have started the ball rolling, if you will, in the right direction by instituting a concussion
There is a -- I think it is a neurologist who is at every game, and if he even thinks that you have a concussion, you're supposed to be removed from
the game. You know, that's better than it was years ago. I think when you look at treatment rather than prevention, because we're not going to
If you have 200, 300-pound guys running at full speed and they collide, or the whiplash effect, one in five concussions are when your head hits the
turf. There is only so much that helmets can do. So, look at treatment stand point, and the only other option is not to play.
AMANPOUR: You know, you speak even now about helmets as sort of being, you know, a helpful device, a protective measure, but a lot of people talk
about helmets being kind of a weapon, people charging each other with those helmets in the head. And the other thing you talked about, which not very
many do talk about, is the fact that so many people are saying it is the Astroturf, it's the surface that is almost as dangerous as, if not more
than the helmets.
FAVRE: Well, you're right. The helmet is used as a weapon, and they have tried to deter that by fines and more education on how to properly make the
tackle. But ultimately, it is going to happen. The violent nature in which the game is played is not going go down.
And you're right, the turf, I think, is a major issue. It has gotten better, I will say that, from my first few years of playing, but I think
they need to look at providing a softer underlying surface that will reduce the violence in which you impact that surface.
AMANPOUR: Dr. Omalu, do you take any satisfaction or do you see it sort of a learning curve when you see that young boys between the ages of six and
12 dropped by 20 percent, those people, you know, playing football?
OMALU: No child deserves to have his life logged (ph) from him intentionally by just a mere excitement of a touchdown. We could do
better. This is the 21st century, children should play the noncontact sports. The potentially dangerous contacts sports should be for adults,
like we have done with every potentially dangerous factor like alcohol, cigarette smoking, skydiving, deep-sea diving. Knowing what we know today
-- yes, we may not have known 20 years ago, but knowing what we know today.
Let me give you an instance. Do you -- do we realize that in 1957, eight years before I was born -- not even eight years, 11 years before I was
born, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a paper in the Pennsylvania Medical Journal stating that no child under the age of 12 in
America should play football, wrestling and boxing.
AMANPOUR: So, Brett, you know, the NFL obviously wants to avoid what happened with Tom Savage. In December, the quarterback from Houston
returned to the field just a few minutes after convulsing from a brutal hit and then he left the game for good.
So, you know, even though the NFL has instituted certain new protocols, do you think it's doing enough? And as everybody says, why can't the game be
changed to make it safer? Why can't you move from tackle football to flag football for adults even?
FAVRE: Well we -- I think we all know that that will never happen because the NFL's too big, there is way too much money, excitement, you name it
involved with NFL football. And Dr. Omalu touched on it, adults can make their own choice, but we need to protect our children.
I do believe there is a movement -- it may take some time to eliminate tackle football, at least up to the age of 14, maybe 15. You know, that's
better than that it is today. But I do believe that our children, we should protect them by playing flag football. If everyone does it, then
the playing field is equal.
But, you know, there are holes and there are flaws in the protocol, obviously, and you just mentioned one, where a player was thought to have
had a concussion but was allowed to go back into the game. And you know, I think there's numerous times about my career where I would have been
diagnosed with a concussion in today's format, but went back into the game never even left the game quite frankly, and maybe it was a little woozy, I
had some headaches for couple plays. But I was able to call a play, was I was able to go back in and function. So, no harm no foul. Well, there is
a harm, there is a foul.
AMANPOUR: You are backing a medical procedure, right, sort of a medicine that you hope can mitigate, Brett, some of the immediate effects of a hit,
of a contact, of a violent contact.
FAVRE: Well, yes. It's a nasal spray that is about to get started in stores. The clinical trial studies, the human trial studies. And if this
product works like what we hope it does, this could be -- I hate to say a gamechanger, but it would be on the sidelines, in playgrounds, homes,
anywhere where concussions to be an issue.
And again, if it works immediately after what you think is a concussion, you spray this nasal spray and within a matter of minutes would reduce the
swelling and basically control, at least, the effects of a concussion.
AMANPOUR: Dr. Omalu, would you back such as a mitigating substance if it worked?
OMALU: Well, what I most want, again, you know, the truth could be inconvenient, we do not want to misappropriate the science. It is not
about concussion, it is not. It's more about the simile in awkwards (ph) blows you receive without any symptoms.
By the time you've suffered a concussion, the damage is done. Concussion damage, there's nothing mild about it. You have membrane, cytoskeletal and
vascular injuries. On a microscopic level, a concussion is a severe type of injury. And once the concussion has occurred, there is no protocol the
NFL would put in place that would reverse your injury, that is the fact.
So, when I hear about protocols, about sprays, it does not make any difference. Once the concussion occurred, there is nothing no doctor could
do for you to cure the concussion. The brain is about 60 to 80% water, is a post-mitotic organ, meaning, it does not have the ability to reasonably
regenerate itself to create new brain cells.
So, parents must know, by the time your child has suffered a concussion there is no neuro-psychiatric test, there is no protocol that would cure
that concussion, and it is a permanent injury. People need to know that.
AMANPOUR: I'm just going to ask you one last question though, if you were to look into the lens and address the NFL, what would you say to them today
on the eve of the Super Bowl and in light of the discussion we have been having?
FAVRE: I think the NFL is working in the right direction. I think there still is long ways to go, but I think we need to focus also not as much on
prevention as we do some type of treatment, because we know football is here to stay and concussions are here to stay. They are not going to get
So, I totally agree with Dr. Omalu and what he is saying. It is a very serious issue, and once a concussion has happened, it has happened. So, we
need to maybe spend more money in -- in not so much in the helmets and in the prevention, but more into the treatment side of it.
AMANPOUR: Brett Favre, Dr. Bennet Omalu, thank you so much for this really, really incredible and important discussion.
OMALU: Thank you so much.
FAVRE: Thanks for having us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Such an honest look at America's favorite sport on this particular weekend. And just another note, our exclusive interview with
Brett Favre is already making waves in the National Football League.
Earlier this week, we released a soundbite from Brett saying that while he thinks progress is being made, the only true safe thing, which he admits
will never happen, is simply not to play at all. You just heard him saying that. And this is how the NFL Commissioner himself, Roger Goodell,
responded when he was told about our interview at a pregame press conference yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Recently, Brett Favre was -- actually this week was interviewed about the safety of the game and his response was, "You just
don't play. The helmet can do but so much." What are the plans for the NFL to make the game safer from the youth level all the way up to the NFL
level, when the Hall of Famer is saying don't play?
ROGER GOODELL, COMMISSIONER, NFL: Well I don't think that's exactly the way -- in every wind (ph) as I heard it. But I would tell you this, that this
is been a major focus for us in trying to make our game safer at our level and all the way through every level of football.
The game of football is much safer than when I played it, but that's part of our responsibility and we take that seriously as something we'll
continue to focus on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Everybody will be thinking about that on Super Bowl Sunday. And that is it for our program tonight. Thanks for watching and goodbye from