As if the NFL didn’t have enough controversy 10 days from the 2015 season opener between the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers, Sony Pictures just released the trailer for “Concussion,” a movie based on the true story of the doctor who discovered the link between football and head trauma.
On the same day NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is scheduled to appear in court opposite Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King unveiled the two-minute trailer in his weekly Monday Morning Quarterback column, and it doesn’t exactly shine a favorable light on the league.
Based on the 2009 GQ article, “Game Brain,” the film chronicles the real-life story of Dr. Bennet Omalu (played by Will Smith), the Nigerian-born neuropathologist who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) — a brain disease brought on by repeated blows to the head — while performing an autopsy on deceased Steelers legend and Hall of Fame center Mike Webster in September 2002.
In the film, Omalu’s discovery is met with resistance from the NFL, which correctly viewed his science as damaging to the business of football and allegedly attempted to discredit his work. The conflict of an accomplished man who came to America to pursue his dream, only to be disparaged by those who control the country’s most beloved sport, appears to be captured brilliantly by Smith.
The trailer begins with Smith’s character saying, “I am the wrong person to have discovered this,” and ends with him demanding NFL executives “tell the truth” about a disease believed to be the cause of dementia, memory loss and depression resulting in numerous deaths of football players, including the 2012 suicide of newly inducted Hall of Famer Junior Seau, whose autopsy was also conducted by Omalu.
For anyone who read “Game Brain,” the portrayal of the NFL as the film’s antagonist should come as no surprise, since Omalu pulled no punches when describing the league’s response to his July 2005 study for Neurosurgery entitled “Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in a National Football League Player.”
“I was naive,” the doctor told GQ six years ago. “There are times I wish I never looked at Mike Webster’s brain. It has dragged me into worldly affairs I do not want to be associated with. Human meanness, wickedness, and selfishness. People trying to cover up, to control how information is released. I started this not knowing I was walking into a minefield. That is my only regret.”
Really, the only surprising aspect of the trailer is that Goodell is played by Luke Wilson, who is apparently going against type after portraying Joe Bauers, the last beacon of intelligence in the 2006 film “Idiocracy.”
As for the conclusions we will draw from a film that also stars Alec Baldwin and Albert Brooks, “Concussion” director Peter Landesman addressed any potential controversy in his Q&A with MMQB.
I have no position on whether or not people should play football or whether they should have their kids play football. To me, this is a story about making adult choices. Once you have the information — and the information has been obscured for a long time, it’s been buried and covered up by people who don’t want to damage the sport — the information is now out there and I hope this movie brings together the information in a way that the general public can metabolize and now make their own decisions. So now that you know that concussions can kill you and playing the sport can kill you, it’s on every parent and it’s on every college player, it’s on every high school player and professional player on whether you are going to let your child play. It’s the same with smoking, drinking and doing drugs. I like to think in some ways that life is an occupational hazard. Something we do in our life is going to kill us; maybe now, maybe fifty years from now. You have to choose what those things are. We love to drink and be merry and be happy, we know it’s not good for us, but we do it. It’s about making adult choices.
Interestingly, Landesman said he held a private screening for Chris Borland, who recently retired from the NFL at age 24 over concerns about the effects of concussions, and the former San Francisco 49ers linebacker was visibly “shaken and shaking” after watching his worst fears play out on the big screen.
The film is scheduled to be released for the rest of us in theaters on Christmas Day.