Edited by Savvas Savvinidis
The game of football changed forever on September 24th, 2002. Mike Webster, America’s “Iron Man,” died at the age of 50.
Known as the center for the Pittsburgh Steelers during their four Super Bowl victories from 1974 to 1979, and considered by most to be the best center in the history of the NFL, Webster’s death caught the interest of a young forensic neuropathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu. Omalu found that Webster had suffered from depression, amnesia, dementia, and acute bone and muscle pain, unusual for a man his age.
(Mike Webster interview video after professional football).
Dr. Omalu later examined brain tissue from Webster and other deceased NFL players — Terry Long, Justin Strzelczyk, Andre Waters, and Junior Seau — and determined that their brains showed the same damage present in those of people suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Some retired boxers were also found to exhibit such brain damage.
“I had to make sure the slides were Mike Webster’s slides,” Omalu told FRONTLINE. “I looked again. I saw changes that shouldn’t be in a 50-year-old man’s brain and also changes that shouldn’t be in a brain that looked normal.” He later named the disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE.
In 2014, Dr. Omalu tried to bring his studies to the NFL, believing that National Football League officials would want to learn more about CTE. They weren’t interested. Instead, NFL doctors assailed his research and findings in public and made a mockery of them. In a very rare move by the NFL, they demanded that he retract his work.
Instead, Omalu continued to try and prove his findings through the book he wrote, Concussion, and its subsequent film adaptation.
Concussion was released on Christmas day, 2015. It tells the story of Dr. Bennett Omalu, played here by Will Smith, who was chosen by director and writer Peter Landesman because of his passionate approach to the role. Smith worked with Dr. Omalu for months in order to solidify the portrayal, learning his background, daily routine, and accent.
The producers also interviewed some of the families and friends of the deceased players, so as to be sure they were making the movie as accurate as possible.
Though Concussion has seen a warm critical reception, it is the second least-successful film of Smith’s career. Could it be that the public is unwilling to accept that football causes brain trauma? In both domestic and foreign markets, the movie has grossed $37,899,978, an insignificant profit compared to its $35 million dollar budget.
I rate this movie an 8.5/10. The filmmakers’ approach to the issue of concussions is organic; instead of a lecture on the hazard of brain trauma in football, they present the health issues inherent in America’s favorite pastime through the stories of real NFL players. I would recommend this movie to any young football players, and also to their parents, as a means of education. While I don’t think the risk of concussions should prevent people from playing and enjoying the sport, it certainly should not be hidden from the public.
Image and trailer are property of Sony Pictures Entertainment.