Dallas Cowboys

Concussion movie might change the way football fans view the NFL and the sport

Will Smith stars as Dr. Bennet Omalu in the Columbia Pictures movie Concussion, which hits movie theaters on Christmas Day.
Will Smith stars as Dr. Bennet Omalu in the Columbia Pictures movie Concussion, which hits movie theaters on Christmas Day. AP

Hollywood is bringing a chilling reminder about the dangers of brain trauma sustained by playing football this holiday season.

Will Smith stars in Concussion, a film based on a true story about a Nigerian pathologist, Bennet Omalu, who faces an uphill battle in exposing the NFL about the affects football has on the brain.

Nowadays, most have heard about former football players being diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and how much their lives fall apart because of the disease.

But this film, which had an advanced screening in Dallas on Monday evening, brings to life the real struggles that former players such as Hall of Fame center Mike Webster faced after their playing careers, and the relentless pursuit by Omalu to shed light on it.

It’s the ugly back story of the concussion crisis in football that could leave moviegoers wondering whether to cheer the next big hit by their favorite player on the field.

This is the opposite of Draft Day, a film that was a borderline infomercial for the NFL. In Concussion, the NFL is painted as a power-hungry institution that is hell bent on keeping brain trauma issues under wraps, rather than face the issue head on. After all, the league doesn’t want the public to know that their sport might have caused former players to go crazy enough to kill themselves.

Omalu doesn’t back down, though, and goes through the trials and tribulations any doctor would in bringing about a new scientific theory, particularly one that goes against a multi-billion dollar machine such as the NFL.

It’s an important movie about the dangers contact sports can have on the brain, told in a way where you don’t have to be in the medical field or a sports fan to enjoy with a love story weaved in between Omalu and his wife, Prema Mutiso (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw).

The movie begins with the sad tale of Webster, the retired Pittsburgh Steelers great who fell on hard times and eventually committed suicide in 2002. Omalu, then working in the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office in Pennsylvania, performed an autopsy on Webster, and eventually discovered Webster’s brain showed a severe case of CTE.

Omalu had never heard of Webster, and didn’t know much about football at the time. But when he started watching and studying the game, he noticed how many blows to the head players receive throughout their careers.

Omalu estimated that Webster must’ve had at least 70,000 blows to the head throughout his football career, which stretched 17 professional seasons, and concluded that football served as the direct link between Webster and CTE.

Omalu got the support of neuroscientists, including former Steelers physician Julian Bailes (played by Alec Baldwin), and went to war against the NFL.

A vivid scene depicts the struggles Omalu faced in trying to get a face-to-face meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (played by Luke Wilson), and then the league wanting Bailes – a former team doctor – to present Omalu’s findings during a league-wide concussion summit rather than Omalu himself.

Bailes’ presentation doesn’t go over well, as he tells Omalu the whole thing was staged by the league so it could say it listened. Eventually, though, the league has to listen with more and more players dying and being diagnosed with CTE or other concussion-related diseases.

Webster’s teammates on the Steelers, fellow offensive linemen Justin Strzelczyk and Terry Long, were among the players who battled brain injuries sustained from football, as did Andre Waters, Dave Duerson and Junior Seau.

The film also makes some wonder about current players and the future harm they might be inflicting upon themselves. Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee, for instance, has had two concussions over a five-week span this season.

But Lee wasn’t overly concerned about his long-term health when asked about the concussion scare last month.

“There is obviously some risk, but I think it’s a safe game,” Lee said. “I think if you play it the right way, you’re all right.”

Concussion, which hits theaters on Dec. 25, presents a different perspective than that, and could leave audiences thinking a different way about football and the NFL.