Will Movie Goers Reject the Will Smith Movie Concussion?

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It will be fascinating to see the response, both from the public and the NFL, to Will Smith‘s movie Concussion, which will be released on Christmas Day. The movie is based on the GQ article Game Brain, which chronicled the pioneering work of Dr. Bennett Omalu, who identified a disease “no one had ever seen before”: chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E. The pivotal moment in the article comes when Dr. Omalu carefully examined the brain of the late Mike Webster, a Hall of Fame Center for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“What is this?” he said out loud. “Geez. Gee! What is this?”

Brown and red splotches. All over the place. Large accumulations of tau proteins. Tau was kind of like sludge, clogging up the works, killing cells in regions responsible for mood, emotions, and ecutive functioning.

This was why Mike Webster was crazy.

Smith stars as Omalu. I enjoy Will so much more when he’s taking on these kinds of roles than I do when he does all of the other things that he does. But will America be able to handle this David and Goliath story about a man who discovered something most people would rather not know? Smith may well be terrific in the movie, but if I had to predict the outcome, I would bet most people will skip this one during the holiday season. It’s a weird dichotomy – people were eager to see Chris Kyle killl a bunch of people as a sniper, but when it comes to engaging with the fact that football destroys brains, it’s an inconvenient truth. They would rather not know.

Maybe I’ll be wrong. Many fans have a complicated relationship with the game of football, and I am one of them. A study of adult men showed that those who started playing football before age 12 performed worse on three measures that were tested: verbal IQ, executive planning (reasoning), and memory recall. And there have been two recent studies examining the effects of head impacts on high school and college students. They found that the more the brain changed over a single season, the worse athletes did on learning and memory tests. The head impacts were not concussions, but just the ordinary impacts the brain experiences during football and hockey. I found myself thinking of this recently when I was playing tennis right next to a field full of 10 year olds who were at a full-contact football camp. “Is this a good idea?” I thought as I watched two kids ram each other in the head. “Do parents and kids really know the risks? Do they want to know?”

It’s the latter question which will determine whether anyone watches Concussion. Here’s the trailer.


Alex is a lawyer and opinionated.

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