"If he was my brother, that would worry me" - Doctor Bennet Omalu speaks about Johnny Sexton's head injuries

The doctor, on whom the movie 'Concussion' is based, spoke to George Hook about the Leinster player's repeated head injuries.

Bennet Omalu, the doctor played by Will Smith plays in the movie 'Concussion', has expressed concern for rugby international Johnny Sexton's health

Speaking to George Hook on Thursday evening in a wide-ranging interview, he detailed how he discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE after performing an autopsy on the body of Mike Webster, a former American football player. 

Omalu stated that while he knew nothing about the game itself, he knew that "players wore helmets when they played, and that implied that there was a risk of traumatic brain injury".

He added that Webster had exhibited "a constellation of symptoms before he died" that suggested he was suffering from a condition that was similar to one regularly seen in boxers; dementia pugilistica. 

After performing a number of tests, as well as checking studies and literature on the topic, Omalu saw that there had been no previous confirmation that those involved in high impact sports could suffer that type of injury, with symptoms manifesting even up to 40 years after they stopped playing.

Image: Mike Wesbter of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Al Messerschmidt / AP/Press Association Images

Omalu detailed that you don't have to have suffered a concussion in order to suffer from CTE, and that repeated blunt force trauma to the head would have an impact, no matter what: "do not be fooled, on the microscopic level there is injury, even after every season. So if you start playing a game like rugby when you're about 10-years-old and you play through school and university level [...] by the time you're about 20, your head has been exposed to thousands, if not tens of thousands of blows".

As a result of that, Omalu argues that focusing on concussion is "a misappropriation of the science", as you don't have to have suffered from a concussion to develop CTE. He added that "knowing what we know now, as a society, it is our moral duty to protect our children for harm [...] and stop intentionally exposing them to the risk of permanent brain damage".   

Omalu added that he is not anti-American football or anti-rugby, but that "we should tap into the great ingenuity of mankind and come up with more brilliant ways we can play these games and keep our children safe". 

With the Six Nations starting this weekend, George asked about the recent concussions and head injuries suffered by Johnny Sexton, which lead George himself to recently opine that the Leinster player should consider retiring.

"If he was my brother, that would worry me," said Omalu. "The brain is what we call a postmitotic organ. The human brain does not have any reasonable capacity to regenerate or heal itself, so once you suffer an injury, that injury is permanent. So if he has suffered six documented concussions in addition to the thousands of blows to his head he's suffered [...] it could start manifesting in a seemingly innocuous manner several months from now, or years or decades from now".