Dr. Bennet Omalu with Mark Tabb
Zondervan, 2017. 304pp.
Sports & Recreation/Football
I’ll be honest, there were times I didn’t enjoy reading this book. I love football. I don’t want to stop loving football. This book, however, makes a compelling case that I should at least reconsider watching football, or allowing my son to play football. The book is Truth Doesn’t Have a Side, the biographic story of Nigerian-born doctor Bennet Omalu. Genuinely a brilliant man, Omalu was the researcher who first identified Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a disease affecting those who have had repeated blows to the head as is typical in sports like football, hockey and soccer (heading the ball), and in various military roles. The first half of the book tells the story of Omalu’s life, the second half details his research regarding CTE and the fallout, particularly from the NFL, over that research.
Chronicling Omalu’s early years in Nigeria, along with his immigration story, the book walks us through the isolation and loneliness of his arrival in America, and his years of earning multiple degrees. Although he came to America with a medical degree already in hand, he continued to work through school, earned multiple additional graduate degrees, completed multiple fellowships, and more.
Finally we see how a researcher is treated when addressing a topic that very few Americans want to consider—particularly when that research could lead to the dismantling of the most popular American sport. This opposition is exacerbated by Omalu’s position in society as a black immigrant. You will find yourself wanting to cry and, at times, scream as he walks through some of these painful moments.
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
This book has great value for a pastor in a number of ways. First, Omalu is a man who takes his faith seriously, but doesn’t try to paint a picture of ideal faith. You watch him struggle, and you see him progress in his faith as he matures into manhood. He deals specifically with issues like his own depression, his inconsistent hypocrisy, and the influence both churches and pastors have had in helping him become a man of consistent and vibrant faith.
What’s more it has value for pastors as you see how his faith plays out as he researches a brain disease that could ultimately radically reshape the way we play and follow American football. He correctly identifies the nearly god-like status we give to those in sports, especially football, and pulls back the veil on sports worship, explaining how that worship can lead to serious physical, emotional and mental harm. In a culture where—as Omalu notes—God used to own Sundays but now the NFL owns it, this book is a helpful reminder and teacher to those of us who lead churches.
Beware, however, that by the conclusion of the book you will find yourself grappling with the morality of contact sports. His research is presented in layman’s terms making it easy to understand, but hard to swallow. You will be challenged and encouraged in your faith in God, and, quite possibly, disturbed regarding your faith in contact sports.
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By