I am a Pittsburgh resident (Reserve Township). I have attended over a hundred Steelers games. And I just went to see Concussion.
I found the Concussion movie starring Will Smith to be particularly poignant. Many will argue it wasn’t an accurate portrayal. Some will claim the NFL is a venerable and noble institution. Others will say the NFL and its billionaire owners are getting away with murder. Like many dramatic documentaries, I suspect “the truth lies somewhere in the middle.”
While I would never compare myself to the courageous Dr. Bennet Omalu (the forensic pathologist played by Will Smith), with his educational pedigree and lifetime of experiences, I do think we share a similar perseverance and dedication. We just want people to know the truth.
For the past five years, I’ve been trying to convince the NFL to “come clean” regarding its outdated emergency evacuation protocol. FYI: Every stadium has 50,000 – 100,000 active cell phones capable of receiving false information.
My main objective here is to promote stadium safety. I just want the NFL to explicitly tell its fans that… official emergency evacuation orders would NEVER be delivered via their personal cell phones. This isn’t conspiracy material and it’s not open to conjecture or debate. This is very generic, common sense, public safety information.
If a partial or full scale evacuation is deemed absolutely necessary, the order is delivered via the public address system in tandem with the jumbotron and the video monitors. Incident command does NOT use cell phones.
But nobody’s allowed to address this security disconnect. Nobody’s permitted to divulge the truth.
I often run laps around Heinz Field. Throw in two parks (PNC, Point State), three bridges (Fort Duquesne, Roberto Clemente, Rachel Carson), three rivers (Ohio, Allegheny and the Mahn) and it makes for possibly the most scenic 5K in the entire United States.
I don’t wear headphones as I prefer to embrace the sounds of the Burgh. Much like Dr. Omalu shared his knowledge with medical professionals and co-workers, I often stop to engage Heinz Field employees. Whether they be security and administration, or even maintenance, groundskeeping and concessions.
And much like Omalu, sometimes my suggestions are well-received. Other times, people are dismissive. Sometimes, I’m chastised and ridiculed. The reactions and critiques are all across the board. The truth: not everyone is capable of seeing beyond the protocol dilemma. Not everyone realizes I’m talking about the prospect of an “artificially generated stampede.”
If you still don’t understand, I’ll be blunt. It’s about an undiscussable, asymmetric national security issue. It’s about an untested cyber-security threat. It’s about creating a real-world panic and synthetically manufacturing a human stampede. It’s about the modern, technological equivalent of shouting FIRE in a crowded theater. It’s about injuring and killing people without conventional weaponry. It’s about innocent fans being trampled and crush asphyxiated.
Hopefully, now you get it.
Throughout the movie, I kept getting this eerie feeling of deja vu, as if I was vicariously experiencing the struggles of Dr. Bennet Omalu. I won’t delve into a methodical review. However, I would like to focus on the three main themes of Concussion: truth, knowledge and situational awareness.
Omalu’s truth: The extensive nature of the NFL’s concussion problem had been widely suppressed. Not for years. But for decades. Why? Well, because of concerns about litigation and culpability. In a word… money.
My truth: Evacuation orders for large, confined crowds (stadiums, ballparks, arenas, etc.) are not delivered via your cell phone. NFL venues are wireless, hyper-connective environments. All 31 stadiums are acutely vulnerable to a cellular hoax. Most fans have just never considered the possibility of how something like this could play itself out. This doesn’t make them naive or stupid. It merely makes them oblivious and unaware.
Now you might make the following argument. What about Amber alerts or weather alerts (tornadoes, floods, mandatory citywide evacuation orders)? First off, state and federal agencies do not have the authority to call for an emergency stadium evacuation. That exclusive authority is ultimately in the hands of the incident commander. Secondly, the dynamic governing the science of large, confined crowds is markedly different from other emergencies. Why? Well, it’s due to the risk of accidentally causing a panic that results in a human stampede. This reasoning is grounded in established procedure and historical precedent.
Omalu’s knowledge: CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) is a progressive condition. Historically, concussions were generally viewed as an isolated problem. When your bell gets rung, you just gotta shake it off. Omalu’s research provided scientific evidence of how CTE contributed to the early onset of dementia and other degenerative neurological conditions.
Although I cannot speak for Omalu’s intentions, it appears he didn’t want to eliminate the sport of football. He simply wanted to provide knowledge and hopefully work with the NFL to make the sport safer. But as evidence began to mount, the NFL felt “fiscally threatened.” They deemed it necessary to launch a counteroffensive and discredit his work. Not to mention their desire to harass and seek retribution upon his employer (highly regarded Allegheny County Coroner Cyril Wecht).
My knowledge: I’ve also come under attack for sharing information, albeit vastly more generic. There are reasons the government and private industry are unwilling to disclose this material. Most of it’s based on plausible deniability and hypothetical litigation. Trust me. I’m not the only person on the planet earth who has thought of this stuff. Just the only person to bitch about it.
Omalu’s situational awareness: Players and their families have a right to know about CTE and plan for their future accordingly. It’s a matter of fundamental human values and how we, as a society, approach life and death.
In the movie, Omalu referenced the skulls of Bighorn sheep.
These animals have double-layered skulls shored with struts of bone for battle protection. Bighorn sheep are perhaps best known for the head-to-head combat between males. Horn size is a symbol of rank and the mass of the horns is used to a male’s best advantage… as he smashes into an opponent at speeds of 20 miles per hour. Combat has been observed to last for over 24 hours (with approximately 5 clashes an hour) until one of the males concedes.
Simply stated, human brains don’t function like those of Bighorn sheep. If parents knew the truth about CTE, they might have extreme reservations about their kids playing football. And this could lead to a domino effect, poisoning the middle school > high school > collegiate channel. Not good for the NFL.
My situational awareness: Specific knowledge is important. Fans have a right to know about a potential “black swan” scenario. What might happen if a VIRAL BLITZKRIEG (decentralized wireless saturation) occurred during a game. Imagine the outcome of a real-world “info-bomb.” If significant numbers of people, scattered throughout the stadium, suddenly and aggressively, started moving toward the concourses and exits for no apparent reason whatsoever? How might such a rush be perceived? I don’t wish to get involved in a debate about evolution, but I can assure you that human beings share similarly ingrained herding instincts with other, “lesser evolved” mammals.
And this wireless information might not arrive in the traditionally suspected form of bomb threats and phony evac orders. There are other deceptively innocuous ways to trick people into hurriedly moving toward the concourses. Maybe you received information that Franco Harris is giving away signed limited-edition, nerf footballs in the Great Hall. Or how about 102.5 WDVE offering a promotion for the next 10 minutes and 25 seconds? Two Primanti’s sandwiches for $10.25 (capicola or cheese steak). It seems like a reasonable offer. Why would you be skeptical?
What about spoofed emails, texts and robocalls delivered to the local media? For instance, let’s speculate that every employee at KDKA, WTAE and WPXI was personally targeted with false information? Note: reporters are often encouraged to break news on their social media pages (facebook, twitter, instagram, etc.). These people are implicitly trusted by the general public. It’s highly doubtful that these same individuals have a vigorous understanding of emergency stadium evacuation protocol.
Does anyone recall the University of Pittsburgh bomb threat saga from 2012? One hundred fifty bomb threats in roughly a month. We learned an important lesson about the physical nature of bomb threats. Things have changed. Times have changed. Long gone are the days when every threat is conveniently phoned in to the main lobby from a land line. The era of cellular communication and the internet is foreshadowing a dangerously decentralized phase. http://www.agsaf.org/reflections-on-the-2012-university-of-pittsburgh-bomb-threats
A hoax scenario actually became reality during the January 3, 2015 Heinz Field playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens. An individual named Jake Berlin tweeted that if he got 400 retweets, he’d rush the field. He ended up getting over 5,000. http://www.agsaf.org/analysis-of-the-jake-berlin-twitter-hoax-at-heinz-field
If any of this does not compute, think in terms of actually turning back the clock and voiding situational awareness. Let’s stop telling fans about the dangers of broken bats and foul balls in Major League Baseball. Would that seem appropriate? My point — society recognizes the inherent value of providing generic public safety information. In similar fashion, nobody in their right mind would ever rescind “stop, drop and roll” or “look both ways before you cross the street.”
Our planet is not a static environment. Human beings have a lengthy history and disturbing tradition of searching for unique ways to kill one another. Just sayin. Much like planes crashing into buildings, mankind often tests the “cracks in the system.” Just sayin… shit happens. An artificially generated stampede could be attempted by a relatively cunning 5th grader. All it takes is a little creativity, some research and a primitive understanding of cellular communication and the internet. Anyone can try it.
Now I’ll be the first to admit, there’s a fine line between dispensing the entire truth and engaging in deliberate fear-mongering. I am not advocating for full disclosure of the distinguishing characteristics between bomb threat emergencies and conditions. In fact, I’d likely refrain from mentioning specific words like “panic” or “stampede.” Certain aspects of this remain undeclared for a reason — complex social mores. I just want the most critical, blatantly obvious omission available for public consumption (stadiums do not order evacuations via cell phones). Now if the NFL wants to take it a step further and be more forthcoming… well that’s up to them. But I won’t be holding my breath. Unless of course, my lungs were deflated… much like the game balls at Gillette Stadium.
I would encourage you to take an objective look at all of this. As I’m admittedly a huge Steelers fan and enjoy attending the games, what on earth could possibly be my alternative motivation? Unless I’m some modern day yinzer version of Austin Powers? And Roger Goodell is Dr. Evil? Neither seems likely.
Movies often invoke David vs. Goliath scenarios. I won’t play that card. However, I did notice a part in the movie where Omalu chose to pay for some medically bureaucratic procedures out of his own pocket. Nobody has paid me for writing this article. Nor have I received any compensation for my books or the website (agsaf.org).
Sometimes it’s necessary to look beyond money and profit. Every once in a blue moon, it’s just about the truth. Plain and simple.
Now assuming you’ve read this far, I’d conclude that you have slightly more “intellectual curiosity” than the general population. You’re probably asking the question… why does this specific public safety issue warrant overt disclosure? Why not warn people about drones and active shooters? What about car bombs or planes crashing into stadiums? Now that answer is a little more difficult. The reasoning lies in the potential for a “dominipede” (multiple, simultaneous human stampedes likely impacting the NFL 1 o’clock slate of games).
Unless you want another 100 paragraphs, I simply cannot explain the conceptual nature of a dominipede. You’re better off sifting through the agsaf.org site or reading one of my three books:
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