As the NFL season nears its end and Entertainment’s Awards Season around the corner, Columbia Pictures’ new film Concussion, set to be released this Christmas, is garnering a lot of attention. The film, based on the true story of Dr. Bennet Omalu and his discovery of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), focuses on Omalu’s persistence of dispersing this information despite the power of the NFL. The inciting incident in the film was the autopsy of deceased ex-NFL player Mike Webster who died of a heart attack, but as Omalu found in his investigation, had declined into a state of incompetence as a result of CTE. Omalu’s crusade in the film as a Nigerian immigrant opposes one of the largest corporations in America, but his insistence of paying tribute to those who have suffered due to this disease, and those at risk of the same fate propels him to put his entire career on the line.
As the film has begun screening for private audiences and the awards circuit, it has been well received by Hollywood. Will Smith’s performance has attracted a lot of buzz as he’s already taken home the Hollywood Actor Award. On taking the controversial role in the first place, Smith comments, “As an artist, I was deeply inspired to tell this man’s story, but deeply conflicted as a parent. When my son was on that football field,
that was the most fun that I ever had as a parent – watching that boy play football,” he goes on to say in his interview with People, “I had no idea the level of neurological repercussion that he was in danger of, playing this game – so I decided to take on this film with a seriously heavy heart.”
Football has become an institution in American sports culture, and these new developments concerning the effects of concussions on the human brain and the ways that these repeated head traumas jeopardize the well being of athletes severely threatens that notion. No one wants to accept that this sport that the nation has embraced so fervently due to its aggressive nature and entertainment value, involves such a risk to the mortality of the players we idolize. As the number of deaths of high school players following incidents of concussions continue to increase, in addition to the tragic demise of various retired players including the likes of Fred McNeill, Mike Webster, and Junior Seau, the importance and emphasis on fixing the concussion problem in the NFL on becomes greater and more controversial. The largest point of contention that this film threatens to expose is that of the NFL’s response to the information provided by Omalu. As described in a Frontline article, “While the story is not a new one, for the NFL, it represents a high-profile and potentially embarrassing cinematic interpretation of a period in which the league sought to refute research suggesting football may contribute to brain disease.” At this point, the NFL has yet to see the final film and regardless of the media’s accusations that the film had been altered to de-villify the NFL, director Peter Landesman confirms that these rumors are absurd. After all, his mission is to tell the compelling story of Dr. Omalu who made great sacrifices for the health and safety of the people. The film is not meant to expose of convict anyone of malpractice in the matter of the NFL’s safety regulations, but rather to raise the question of what it takes to overcome these obstacles in order to fight for what you believe in.
The story’s intended message seems less powerful in its pursuit of Omalu’s sacrifice in the US official trailer, which focuses so greatly on the NFL as the antagonist in the film. Concussion’s international trailer on the other hand clearly depicts the cinematic value and heart of the story.
Here it is evident that this is a film about Omalu and his difficulties in being an outsider in the American world of medicine and the responsibility he bears in light of such a huge breakthrough. The NFL’s presence is almost non-existent in this version of the trailer, as international audiences cannot relate to the institution as Americans do. Instead this trailer captures the emotion and power of this story, which in my opinion bodes well for the NFL.
As the media attention bubbles around Concussion, the NFL doesn’t seem to be too concerned with how they’ll be portrayed in the film come the Christmas release. It appears that in partnering with the film and its cause, the NFL sees this film as a way to aid in the research campaign and debate surrounding the topic of health and safety in the NFL. It’s a hard truth that faces those who love the sport of football, but it is a story that must be told. After all, it is common knowledge that the League ignored the research and discoveries concerning concussions early on to avoid financial losses and responsibility, thus the film does not expose anything new. With regards to its sobering effect, the NFL commented, “We are encouraged by the ongoing focus on the critical issue of player health and safety. We have no higher priority. We all know more about this issue than we did 10 or 20 years ago. As we continue to learn more, we apply those learnings to make our game and players safer.” And should Concussion succeed at the box office, the crusade to regulate and improve the health and safety of football may become more important then ever.