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Interview With Dr. Bennet Omalu and Brett Favre Regarding CTE. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired February 1, 2018 - 14:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:00] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Tonight as millions of football fans gear up for a big weekend this Super Bowl Sunday, we hear serious
warnings about the sport's major concussion crisis with NFL Hall-of-Famer Brett Favre and the doctor who first discovered CTE, the brain disease
caused by blows to the head.
Good evening everyone and welcome to the program I'm Christiane Amanpour, in London. The countdown is on for Super Bowl Sunday, American football's
season finale. Can the New England Patriots defend their title when they face the Philadelphia Eagles in Minnesota?
And there is another question about America's favorite sport, that multibillion dollar industry, it is under mounting scrutiny for the head
injuries it causes, concussions and CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy. It is a degenerative brain disease, which has ended careers and even some
Rugby, boxing and even soccer also make this a worldwide phenomenon that all parents can identify with. The film "Concussion", starring Will Smith a
few years ago, brought this crisis to light. The star played the doctor who discovered CTE and told of his uphill struggle to get the NFL to recognize
AMANPOUR: And now I speak to Dr. Bennet Omalu and Brett Favre, one of America's most prominent players, a hall of fame quarterback who suffered a
bag concussion in his very last game. Brett FAVRE and Dr. Bennnet Omalu welcome to the program.
DR. BENNET OMALU, NFL CONCUSSION EXPERT: Thank you so much.
BRETT FAVRE, FORMER NFL PLAYER: 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 match up. 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, long time 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 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 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.
[14:05:00] And before the 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 when I say make
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
And I am talking about where I lost consciousness for five seconds, 10 seconds, a minute. But what we're finding out, Dr. Omalu obviously can
tough on this in much more detail is that the old saying in football was "I got my bill 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. So that is very frightening, and it's not a good thing. So I am very fearful of what the future will
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 an expert (ph). 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'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 even powerful (ph) brain damage. All you need to damage your
brain is one violent blow. So watching the Super Bowl on Sunday, what goes through my mind is where will these players be in 20 years?
AMANPOUR: Well you know -
OMALU: We are pretty much -- knowing what we know today, we're intentionally causing harm to the lives of others. There is a big problem
AMANOPUR: Of course, in the name of a great American sport. And I see Brett nodding while you are discussing the nature of these head injuries. Brett,
I would like to play just this short clip from the documentary "Shocked" that you executive produced and that you are in and is just being released.
FAVRE: 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, was shaking me "Come on buddy." And I just remember snoring. And I kind of came to and I said "Hey,
was I snoring?" And he said "Yes, you have a concussion." And then it started kind of like, what just happened here? I got up and he said "Hey
buddy, you were out about 10, 20 seconds."
AMANPOUR: Brett, it's really dramatic and that was the last play of your career. And that was when you knew that you had suffered a 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, 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 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
there just implemented the new protocol or the only protocol for concussion in the NFL and so on.
[14:10:20] The talk just started kind of heating up and so I knew that this was not a good thing.
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 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 again, I referr to Doctor 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: All 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. 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 and 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 family and I said to Mike - Mike, guide me to the trip. I will do everything within my means to rehabilitate you, to
vindicate you. 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 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.
[14:15:00] 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 you make the game safer, you don't play. Is that going to happen? No, I think NFL is here to stay obviously. That
being said, I think we have started the ball rolling, if you will, in the right direction by instituting a concussion protocol. 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. That is
better than it was years ago.
I think when you look at treatment rather than prevention, because we're not going to prevent them. If you have two 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 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 is 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 in 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.
[14:20:00] AMANPOUR: So Brett, the NFL obviously want to avoid what happened with Tom Savage. In December, the quarterback from Houston
returned to the field just a few minutes often 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 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 -- was thought to have had a
concussion was allowed to go back into the game.
And you know, I think there is 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 was a little woozy, 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 and that's the
long-term effects that Dr. Omalu has talked about.
AMANPOUR: And just finally, you are backing a medical procedure right? A sort of a medicine that you help can mitigate, Brett, some of the immediate
effects of a hit - of a contact -- of a violent contact?
FAVRE: Well yes it is 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 gamechanger, but it would be on the sidelines, in playgrounds, homes (ph),
anywhere were concussions to be an issue.
And again if it works immediately after what you think is a concussion, you spray this nasal spray within a matter of minutes would reduce the swelling
and basically control at least the effects of a concussion and I am not saying get you back on the field right away, although that could be
possible, but we have to go through the human trial studies first and foremost, but we hope we have something that can work as far as the
treatment because to my knowledge, there is nothing in treatment except for time.
AMANPOUR: Dr. Omalu, would you back such as a mitigating substance if it worked?
OMALU: Well what I most want, again, 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 similarly (ph) (INAUDIBLE) blows you receive without any symptoms, by the time you've
suffered a concussion, the damage is done. Concussion damage - nothing mild about it. You have membrane cytoskeletal apostolate injuries on a
microscopic level -- a concussion is a severe type of injury.
And once the concussion has occurred, there is no protocol NFL would put in place that would reverse your injury, that is the fact.
So when I hear about sprays, it does not make any difference. Once the concussion occurred, there is nothing no doctor could do for you to cure
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
[14:25:00] So parents must know, by the time your child has suffered a concussion there is no neuro-psychiatric (ph) test, there is no a 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 a 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
any better. 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.
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
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Recently, Brett Favre was -- actually this week was interviewed about the safety of the game. 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. We take that seriously as something we'll continue to focus on.
AMANPOUR: Everybody will be thinking about that all Super Bowl Sunday. And that is it for our program tonight. Thanks for watching and goodbye from