“Concussion” is being tabbed as one of the best movies of 2015 and it hasn’t even opened nationally.
Starring Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Morse, Albert Brooks, Mike O’Malley, Bitsie Tulloch, Richard T. Jones and Hill Harper, “Concussion” tells the story of Dr. Bennet Omalu-an employee of the City of Pittsburgh who discovers a pattern of traumatic brain trauma when performing the autopsy on former Pittsburgh Steelers player Mike Webster.
In performing his research, Dr. Omalu discovered the player had numerological brain damage that belied his relatively youthful age of 50 at the time of death. Dr. Omalu’s findings are immediately challenged by the National Football League and the entire city of Pittsburgh.
He risked it all so that a truth could be revealed, one that did not seek to derail the game of football but to better it by making it a safer game.
Recently I spoke to veteran actor Hill Harper about playing the role of NFL executive Christopher Jones in “Concussion.” What ensued was an enlightening exchange about the motivations of his character, his research techniques, the heroic sacrifice of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the advancements in medical screening for head trauma vulnerability and much more.
The first thing I asked was whether or not he was surprised by the actions of the National Football League when it was revealed they were duplicitous in concealing the truth about head trauma and its lasting effects in former professional football players for years.
“It’s interesting. When we think about major corporations and leagues like the NFL we see the figureheads like Paul Tagliabue or Roger Goodell, but the people behind them-the lawyers, the business folks, those are the people that stay year after year. Those are the people that are actually moving the puppet strings. “Concussion” is such a good film and is so well-written that you get an idea of the lengths to which the NFL or any major corporation would go to protect its interests. Even against evidence that suggests folks are being harmed.”
In the film, Harper plays NFL executive Christopher Jones-a morally ambiguous individual who is horrified by the idea that Dr. Omalu’s findings could destroy professional football.
“I always get passed as the nice guy but it was nice to play a guy who maybe has a different agenda. I guess I don’t strike fear in peoples’ hearts when they see me. So, it was fun to play an intellectual villain.”
“But I want to be clear, ‘Concussion’ is not a film that is trying to vilify or eradicate football. The film is about telling the truth and wanting folks to know the truth. That’s why I love the film so much. That’s why it’s so important. If you have people; whether it’s a cigarette company, whether it’s a seatbelt company or a car company, that are trying to block the truth about a device or product they have a monetary interest in. And that’s a problem. So, in the tradition of such great films like “Erin Brockavich,” “Concussion” is a film that celebrates the bravery of Dr. Bennet Omalu, who stood up amid such amazing pressure to tell the truth.”
“Concussion” is a movie about selfless heroism in the face of an overwhelming adversary. But it’s also about greed, fear and maintaining a lie in the face of truth.
“It’s also about folks conveniently chose to ignore or not look into something when the evidence is looking them in the face yet attempt to act otherwise,” Harper explained. “We see politicians do it, we see religions do it, we see major corporations do it, and we even see people do it in their personal lives where people are refusing to tell the truth. That’s why we need more people like Dr. Bennet Omalu to standup and be courageous enough to risk their own career, their livelihood, the livelihood of their family, to tell the truth. We all know more people who would be ambiguous with the truth in the face of their own interests thank will go against their own interests to tell the truth.”
Though Hill Harper is most known as an accomplished actor, many don’t realize he actually was a pretty decent football player back in the day. Not NFL good, but Harper played at a high enough level to be concerned about his own long term risk for CTE and the risks to friends who currently make a living in the NFL.
“I played football myself throughout high school and in college. So, I have a number of friends that play in the NFL. It was something that was definitely on my mind and I wanted to learn more. I also wanted to learn how executives with the league worked so that I could play my character more effectively. At the end of the day these people love the game. My character Christopher Jones loves football and wants to protect it voraciously. Just like anything else, the game has to evolve. The film isn’t about getting rid of football. It’s about telling the truth so that the game can evolve. “
“I came across a company called simplified genetics. They do DNA tests to your propensity for brain trauma. There’s so much science out there. It’s amazing!”
“The concussion issue reportedly effects between 20 and 30 percent of the people who do things with a propensity for concussive trauma. Not everyone is going to get CTE. It’s in the headlines now because Frank Gifford just died and his family wanted his brain tested. He had the same disease that Dr. Bennet Omalu discovers in the film.
“You can go to Simplified Genetics. You can use the discount code Hill, my name, you can find out if you or your child has a predisposition toward concussive brain trauma.”
Check out Hill Harper, along with Will Smith, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Alec Baldwin, “Concussion” in theaters nationwide on December 25. In the meantime, you can check out Hill every week on the critically-acclaimed CBS dramatic series “Limitless.”