Concussion is a well-made film that might be the final straw, or the first bell, to get many Football fans to wake up to the reality that 22 people slamming into each other every 25 seconds for 60 minutes is a perfect plan to destroy the human brain. The film shows Will Smith playing Dr. Bennett Omalu finding the evidence of a new disease CTE or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. This discovery could make the game end inside of 20 years if even just 10% of parents forbid their sons to play football.
I grew up watching and playing football. Flag football from age 8 to 11. Then in the eighth grade I played tackle football for the Chicago High Ridge Chargers of the Pop Warner League. I remember having long practices in the summer heat and coming home with a body full of bruises that I wore like badges of honor. The night before our first game, I laid out my pads and uniform on the floor of my room. I was actually going to play football like the men on TV. In high school, football was my whole life. I played, practiced, trained, watched, studied, and consumed the sport all year round. Senior year, I was captain of the team. Every win was a euphoric drug that carried my teammates and I through the week. Every loss was a dark cloud that hung over my life. I wasn’t big or good enough to play past high school but the sport was so much in my life that I’m amazed I didn’t become a high school football coach. This is how much the game is a part of my life and the American culture.
I love the game of football and naively wanted to believe that the NFL was about fair play. Sure they make money but at their core is fairness and above all else, protecting the players. Protecting their product and taking care of the people that help make them billions of dollars. I was blinded by how great the game is to how corrupt the NFL is. I wanted to believe that this league of former players and people who love the game like I do would never cover up something as serious as this. When the league pretended domestic abuse didn’t exist until it was on camera, I could see that my denial was crumbling. The reality is the NFL is as corrupt and evil as any horrible billion-dollar industry. Filled with greedy parasites that drink large cups of rationalization to settle the moral imbalance in their rich person heads. And this is the battle that Will Smith’s character wages in this film.
When Smith’s character uncovers the disease in legendary Pittsburgh Steeler, Mike Webster, he tells the right people. He assumes that the NFL will want to hear this and take action. As a man from another country, he has no idea how much the NFL controls the American psyche. “They own a day of the week!” says Dr. Cyril Wecht, played very well by Albert Brooks. It’s hard to see and talk about for average football fans so you can imagine how difficult it is for the NFL. Alec Baldwin plays a former team doctor who loves the game but can’t run from science. He and Will Smith have some of the best scenes and Baldwin serves as the conflicted conscience of most fans when he says the game is “pure Shakespeare.” How the story unravels is good but the most compelling parts are the one on one interaction of Smith and the rest of the cast.
I recommend this film, first because it’s well made. Good acting, directing and script. Very good supporting cast, like Gugu Mbatha-Raw who plays Smith’s wife and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje who plays one of the players, Dave Duerson. You don’t have to be a football fan to like this film, but if you are, it might get you to rethink some things. For me I’m scared for my nephew who plays. After reading an article how now they are discovering CTE in some men who played only high school football, I’m scared. I’m scared for myself, my brother and all my former teammates and anyone who played high school football. If we all knew about CTE, would we have played? Anytime I get angry is it because I have this awful brain disease? Or is it because taking selfies at the grocery store is stupid. Will I suffer the fate of many of my hero’s and kill myself?
Any movie that makes you ask tough questions is worth watching. Big business is big business with no remorse for individuals that are affected by the collateral damage of greed. The Big Short and Spotlight are both films talking about similar issues, which is why Concussion not getting even a Best Picture nomination is silly. Is the Academy racist or just completely out of touch? Do none of the old white guys running the Oscars watch football? Eddie Redmayne’s nomination for The Danish Girl and Jennifer Lawrence for Joy makes as much sense as Tom Brady getting to play in the Super bowl because he won it last year. If the Academy ran the NFL, Cam Newton would not be playing against Payton Manning for the ultimate prize in football. Maybe because they are both corrupt billion-dollar companies, we all should just not care. For better or worse, I’ll be watching both this February. However I will not go to Catholic Church.
Thanks for reading the thoughts of a conflicted former football player and movie nerd.