BU Revokes Award from Dr. Bennet Omalu, Who First Discovered CTE in NFL Players

The university says Omalu no longer fits the award's criteria.

Boston University is revoking an award from Dr. Bennet Omalu, the esteemed neuropathologist who first discovered CTE in NFL players. The BU School of Public Health planned to present Omalu with its highest honor at the school’s 40th anniversary gala in November.

According to the Globe, Omalu was told this week he would no longer receive the Beyond Health Award. The decision came just days after Omalu was quoted in a Globe piece regarding financial ties between World Wrestling Entertainment and the BU-affiliated Concussion Legacy Foundation, which is headed by former professional wrestler Chris Nowinski.

“What I find very surprising is the timing of this, right after the [Globe] article,’’ Omalu told the newspaper. “It feels like a vendetta against me.”

Omalu, who was portrayed by Will Smith in the film Concussion, says the dean of the School of Public Health, Dr. Sandro Galea, told him the university was now only planning to acknowledge those with close ties to the institution at the ceremony. A BU web page for the event lists Larry Kessler, the founding director of the AIDS Action Committee in Massachusetts, and Janice Cooper, who’s in charge of the Carter Center Mental Health’s project in Liberia, as the other two honorees.

When the Globe asked BU why Cooper still fit the supposed criteria for an award winner, a spokesman said, “The decision on the invitees are the dean’s.” Nowinski told Boston he has no comment on the story.

Nowinski partnered with Omalu in 2006 when he first started acquiring brains of deceased athletes for the purpose of CTE research. Within months, they procured the brains of three athletes—including former professional wrestler Chris Benoit, who killed his wife, young son and himself in 2007. Omalu and Nowinski had a bitter falling out later that year.

Nowinski has come under fire for taking $2.7 million in donations from the WWE since 2013 and allowing the company to have a chair on his foundation’s board. The Concussion Legacy Foundation hasn’t obtained a professional wrestler’s brain for research since its relationship started with the WWE. Nowinski said to the Globe last week that “no conflict exists.” Almost 100 wrestlers have died over this time period.

Omalu, who’s now the co-director of the Brain Injury Research Institute, recently made a high-profile move on the issue of wrestlers suffering from CTE when he acquired the brain of recently deceased professional wrestler Joan “Chyna” Laurer in April.