Things Not Seen

On any given Sunday 20 million Americans will watch Sunday Night Football; currently the no. 1 rated show on television. In February 2016, over 100 million viewers will watch Super Bowl 50. As a lifelong fan, I have tuned in often. An army of cameras will ensure NFL fans see the runs, passes, and hits. There are even overhead cameras suspended above the field, catching the faces of linebackers threatening opposing quarterbacks.

Despite the grimaces, the most threatening thing facing NFL players that night will not be seen on the field, and is often not seen until it is too late. We have one man's faith to thank for bringing it to light.

The Bible defines faith as "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." However, no matter your spiritual background, faith is the cornerstone of belief. It is faith that moves us beyond the physical and provides a connection to that which we know in our innermost selves.

In the movie Concussion, Will Smith plays Dr. Bennet Omalu. Dr. Omalu is a neuropathologist who diagnosed the first case of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in a former NFL player. Unlike the jarring effects of a concussion -- very often -- the memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, and other symptoms of CTE do not manifest immediately. While concussions are tremendous injuries, it is repeated head trauma (hits over time) that lead to CTE.

While observing the physical and mental decline of Pittsburgh Steelers great Mike Webster, Dr. Omalu knew -- like so many NFL families knew -- that something more significant was going on. Dr. Omalu used science to connect that "evidence of things not seen" with a real disease after examining the brain tissue of Webster and other players.

Despite this breakthrough, information I wish I had when I played, Dr. Omalu's discovery was largely ignored. The NFL moved to discredit both Dr. Omalu and his research. During this time, Dr. Omalu remained faithful. He believed he was the "wrong one to have discovered this." Nevertheless, he knew that God can and often does use the most unlikely among us to do incredible good.

Dr. Omalu's faith held firm. He knew something that could not been seen was killing NFL players. He also knew that his research -- not being seen for other reasons -- could help. In 2010, Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry was diagnosed with CTE. The then-26 year-old NFL player died tragically. He was the first active NFL player to be diagnosed with CTE.

This diagnosis, and the years of work done before it, laid the path for Dr. Omalu's story of faith to told. Henry's diagnosis and a full understanding of the impact of repeated head trauma also highlights a striking truth; the effect of CTE on communities in America.

Approximately two-thirds of NFL players in any given year come from one community: the African American community as of 2013. By putting their bodies at risk, many of these men have the opportunity to impact a community that -- in the United States -- has and continues to be socio-economically depressed; or so they think.

While many NFL players make millions of dollars. The majority of players do not make incredible salaries. In fact, the average NFL salary is the lowest of the four major American professional sports leagues.

In recent years, we have seen a nationwide movement affirming the worth of black lives; black lives matter in the NFL too.

Deep down, Dr. Omalu knew that something was wrong. He knew his motives were pure. He knew these men needed help. In one particularly moving scene. Dr. Omalu admonishes the NFL to "tell the truth."

Concussion tells this story of faith. I have faith, that through this movie and underlying research, the NFL of tomorrow will be safer than it is today. The reality is, football has the potential to have a lasting destructive impact on the bodies of the young men who participate in the sport. As people of faith, we have a responsibility to tell the truth, to shine a light, and to help others. I stand with Dr. Omalu to do just that.

We do not yet have a cure for CTE. However, I believe Dr. Omalu is the "evidence" of "things not seen." Go see Concussion and see for yourself.

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