It’s safe to say the NFL won’t be giving Concussiontwo thumbs up.
With its star cast, big-studio backing and a Christmas Day release, the movie has the potential to do what a Hall of Famer’s suicide, protracted lawsuits and reams of scientific data could not: Present the horrors of football’s concussion crisis in such simple and compelling fashion that no one will ever see the NFL in the same way again.
“They have to listen to us. This is bigger than they are,” Will Smith says in the trailer that was released Monday.
A line in a movie, it might as well be a warning to the NFL.
Concussion is the story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the pathologist who unearthed the link between football and head trauma. It was Omalu who put a name to the disease that destroyed the brains of countless former players and led Junior Seau and several others to kill themselves.
Sony Pictures turned down requests from USA TODAY for interviews Monday with both Omalu and Peter Landesman, the film’s director.
The details of Omalu’s story are not new, having been told time and again in interviews for stories, books and documentaries. Nor is the NFL’s callous indifference to the health of its former players a revelation, exposed in court testimony and depositions.
Yet more than a decade after Omalu first discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in the brain of former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster, setting off the concussion crisis, the NFL is bigger than ever.
It has revenues of $10 billion, making NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s goal of $25 billion by 2027 seem conservative. TV contracts have skyrocketed, and three teams are fighting for the right to call the lucrative Los Angeles market home.
Sure, there have been debates about safety and whether kids should play America’s favorite game. The NFL will pay more than $900 million to settle a concussion lawsuit filed by retired players. Youth leagues have seen numbers drop as parents decide they don’t want to put their kids at risk. Earlier this year, San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland walked away from a lucrative career after just one season because he feared for his future health.
But such concerns are easily dismissed. The science behind CTE is complex and heavy, and there’s still no way to predict how many hits are too many. For as many former players who have killed themselves or seen their mental capacity diminish, there are others who seem to be just fine. The NFL promises that player safety is a priority, and that it has learned from its past mistakes.
“We all know more about this issue than we did 10 or 20 years ago,” Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president of health and safety policy, said in a statement. “As we continue to learn more, we apply those learnings to make our game and players safer.”
So we push our fears to the side, cross our fingers and carry on with our blind love affair with the NFL.
And therein lies the power of Concussion.
People who love football will see the film because, let’s be honest, they’ll watch just about anything related to football. But people who don’t know the Browns from the Bengals will see the movie because it stars Smith, Alec Baldwin and Luke Wilson, whose movies have a combined gross of more than $5 billion.
People who have no clue what Deflategate is, let alone care, will see Concussion because it’s the winter holidays and they’re looking for something to do. People who are indifferent to sports of any kind will see it because they were intrigued by the slick, intense trailer.
Think The Insider, but about football instead of tobacco.
But after a 2-hour tutorial on CTE, concussions and how badly the NFL has failed its own, some who see the movie will be turned off football for good. Others will find their love for the league a little more complicated.
All will want answers.
“The NFL does not want to talk to you,” Baldwin, who plays former Pittsburgh Steelers physician Dr. Julian Bailes, tells Smith in the movie.
“You’ve turned on the lights and given their biggest bogeyman a name.”
As big a nightmare as the NFL thought that was, Concussion will only add to it.
This article was republished with permission from the original author, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today.