*The Christmas Day release of Will Smith’s new movie “Concussion” is months away, but it looks to make the NFL nervous with shining a bright light on its history related to football and brain damage.
The drama centers on Smith, who will play real-life Pittsburgh forensic pathologist Bennet Omalu. Omalu is noted for being the guy who first discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease found in the brains of football players in 2002. According to Vox.com, CTE results after repeated brain trauma over time. The disease ultimately causes depression, dementia, and other behavioral changes.
Omalu’s examination of the brains of former Pittsburgh Steelers Mike Webster and Terry Long confirmed that football players were just as susceptible to severe brain damage symptoms as boxers after being punched in the head repeatedly. Webster ultimately died at the age of 50 from a heart attacked after suffering from severe depression and dementia. Long’s death came at age 45 from drinking antifreeze.
Omalu’s finding was backed up by doctors at Boston University’s CTE Center, who examined 79 deceased NFL players’ brains and found CTE in 76 of them. Although doctors found that many of the players died by suicide or had dramatic changes in personality after retirement. It’s still unknown whether the overall rate of CTE in all players is an epidemic or a relatively rare problem.
The findings from the work of Omalu and the Boston University doctors were hard for the NFL to ignore as it tried to cover up anything connecting football and brain trauma. Vox notes that deeply inconsistent [information] released from a committee set up by the league to examine long term effects of concussions on the health of players conflicted with findings from other neurologists.
The site pointed out how the “Concussion” trailer touched on the NFL’s cover up with trying to discredit Omalu by accusing him of fraud and barring him and other doctors who later worked on CTE from league meetings on football and the brain.
“They went to the press. They insinuated I was not practicing medicine; I was practicing voodoo,” Omalu later told Frontline.
The pathologist’s work would eventually give way to the NFL abruptly making changes in 2009 after league Commissioner Roger Goodell was grilled by Congress. Those rule changes include reducing the number of players’ concussions, putting new protocols in place to make sure concussed players are properly diagnosed, and donating money for concussion and CTE research.
Despite it taking measures to address the problem, the safety concerns about football have caused famous critics such as President Barack Obama and former NFL quarterback Brett Favre to admit to not letting their kids play the sport in light of health risks.
“If enough parents keep their kids away from football, it could pose a threat to the long-term popularity (and profitability) of the sport. The last thing the NFL wants, as its season is about to start, is a Will Smith blockbuster about how football is dangerous,” Vox reports before concluding its report with a memo found by BuzzFeed’s Lindsey Adler among the hacked Sony emails.
Also interesting is the fact that BuzzFeed’s Lindsey Adler found a memo in the Sony hacks that encapsulates the threat perfectly. As a staffer at a public relations firm that represents Will Smith wrote to the makers of the film:
“CONCUSSION is going to piss off the NFL. We should not try to pretend otherwise. Moreover, there is no concession we could make short of agreeing to cancel the project entirely that could possibly satisfy them. Our strategy should thus be based on the assumption that we are going to be facing a powerful adversary that may try to prevent the movie from being made—and, failing that, to ensure that as few people as possible see it or take it seriously.”
For more about “Concussion” and the NFL, click over to Vox. To see the the trailer for the film, check out the video below: