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‘Concussion’ subject Bennet Omalu’s role disputed

Researchers say he exaggerated

In the trailer for the movie ‘‘Concussion,’’ star Will Smith says: ‘‘I found a disease that no one has ever seen.’’

It’s a claim the real-life doctor portrayed by Smith, forensic pathologist Bennet Omalu, has himself made for years, giving a detailed description about how he came to name that disease ‘‘chronic traumatic encephalopathy.’’

But Omalu neither discovered the disease nor named it, according to scientific journals and brain researchers interviewed by the Associated Press. And though no one doubts that Omalu’s diagnosis of Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster was pivotal in understanding football’s dangers, fellow researchers say Omalu goes too far when he publicly takes credit for naming or discovering CTE.

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‘‘It’s just not true, and I think he knows that,’’ said William Stewart, a neuropathologist at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.

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‘‘Chronic traumatic encephalopathy has been around for decades. It’s not a new term,’’ Stewart said. ‘‘The only thing I would say that Bennet has done is that he identified it in an American footballer.’’

In a telephone call to the AP on Thursday, Omalu passionately defended his work and attributed the criticisms to ‘‘people historically who have made a systematic attempt to discredit me, and to marginalize me.’’

‘‘This is totally false. And write that in a big font, that it is totally and completely false,’’ he shouted into the phone. ‘‘There is a good deal of jealousy and envy in my field. For me to come out and discover the paradigm shift, it upset some people. I am well aware of that.’’

Sony Pictures, which will release ‘‘Concussion’’ on Christmas Day, issued a statement on Thursday that also noted ‘‘competing interests and agendas . . . that are still trying to undermine Dr. Omalu’s work.’’

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‘‘What is beyond dispute is that Dr. Omalu’s discovery shined a light on a reality that the NFL ignored for too long and continues to play out every Sunday,’’ Sony Pictures spokeswoman Jean Guerin said.

Dozens of former football players have been posthumously diagnosed with CTE after descending into lives of depression, alcohol or drug abuse, violent behavior, and even suicide.

Also beyond dispute is the personal struggle Omalu went through after the NFL sought to discredit his research rather than confront the threat to long-term health of its players.

But the new complaints are not from the league, but from fellow researchers who say Omalu is claiming credit he doesn’t deserve.

This time, the quarrel seems to center on what it means to discover a disease, and what it is to name it.

Hasselbeck practices

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Colts quarterback Matt Hasselbeck returned to practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday with a rib injury. Coach Chuck Pagano has said all week he believes Hasselbeck will play in Sunday’s pivotal game between AFC South rivals Indianapolis (6-7) and Houston (6-7). Starter Andrew Luck already has been ruled out as he continues to recover from a lacerated kidney and partially torn abdominal muscle. Luck threw passes during the open portion of practice for the second straight day. Hasselbeck has dealt with neck, rib, back, and shoulder injuries over the past two weeks. His left arm had been immobilized most of this week. Hasselbeck is 4-2 as the starter this season . . . The Giants reached back to their Super Bowl championship season of 2007 with the signing of defensive tackle Barry Cofield. Cofield played for the Giants for five years until signing with the Redskins as a free agent in 2011. He missed only one game with the Giants, in 2008, and started all but two. The Redskins released Cofield Feb. 27, and he had been out of the league since.