The National Hockey League has gone on the attack against Dr. Bennet Omalu, the neuropathologist whose story was depicted in the movie Concussion.
In documents filed late Monday in a U.S. federal court, the NHL alleged Dr. Omalu inappropriately criticized one of its medical experts in a recent letter.
“Dr. Omalu’s hyperbolic and unprofessional accusations are not only unhelpful to the court, but they also reflect a personal zeal that is patently unscientific,” the NHL’s lawyers wrote in a legal brief, adding that the letter from Dr. Omalu was “a bizarre attack.”
The league has hired Dr. Rudy Castellani, a neuropathologist and director of the Western Michigan University Center for Neuropathology, as a medical expert in the NHL concussion lawsuit. Dr. Castellani denies that chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, exists and has challenged the work of Dr. Omalu, who made international headlines after he performed an autopsy in 2002 on former Pittsburgh Steelers player Mike Webster and diagnosed him with CTE.
Dr. Castellani and the NHL have asked the court to order Boston University researchers to provide their pathology records and correspondence with deceased players and their families. The university has been at the forefront of research into brain disease and CTE among military veterans and former professional and college athletes.
Last week, Dr. Omalu wrote a letter to a lawyer representing former NHL players who are suing the league for its handling of concussions and brain trauma. Dr. Omalu’s 16-page letter, supporting Boston University’s work, was then filed in U.S. district court in Minneapolis, where the proposed class action lawsuit is being argued.
Dr. Castellani is undermining “the integrity, purity and independence of this long-established process and standards of practice,” Dr. Omalu wrote.
Dr. Castellani has said he wants to review the pathology photos and slides from the 2014 autopsy of former Washington Capitals player Larry Zeidel, who was diagnosed with CTE by Boston University researchers.
Dr. Castellani, the NHL’s lawyers wrote, should have the chance to review those slides and photos “to determine whether the Center’s findings in this 86-year-old man could be attributed to normal aging… rather than to CTE purportedly resulting from his 158-game NHL hockey career that ended in 1969.”
Boston University has handed over fewer than 30 documents related to Zeidel, totaling less than 155 pages, according to the NHL. The school has refused to provide digitized slides or pathology photos related to his autopsy, the league said.
Boston University has said if it’s forced to turn over documents related to its research, it might negatively impact its ability to find future research subjects, who worry about their privacy being compromised.
“This alarmist rhetoric is unfounded,” the league wrote in Monday’s legal brief. “The NHL’s willingness to accept de-identified data subject to a protective order mitigates any impact on athletes’ willingness to participate in the [school’s] research in the future.”
The league noted that NHL teams have already produced 27,235 documents in the case. The NHLPA has produced 12,501.