“Concussion” Movie Takes Aim at the NFL’s Player Safety Controversy

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Concussion” is a forthcoming movie focused on the story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, who researched the effects of repeated concussions on football players. Although there’s been plenty of controversy over the movie, the first premiere was on Tuesday and some reviews are starting to trickle in. The early consensus appears to be that “Concussion” delivers a hard blow to the NFL’s continued PR issues when it comes to player safety.

Widely premiering in December and starring Will Smith, the movie centers around Omalu, a Nigerian-born forensic pathologist who was the first doctor to publish findings of CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopath, in NFL players. CTE is a degenerative disorder that is found in people who have repetitive brain injuries, such as concussions. It can cause depression, aggression, and disorientation. Omalu discovered CTE after performing an autopsy on Pittsburgh Steelers player Mike Webster. Webster passed away at 50 after developing dementia. Omalu’s quest to bring attention to the issue and his contentious dealings with the NFL are a large part of the second half of the movie.

The film was a point of contention during the Sony hack last year, when emails revealed that Sony wanted to avoid antagonizing the NFL. In September, the New York Times released a piece that claimed that the movie has been altered to avoid doing just that. But the film’s director Peter Landesman denies those contentions, saying:

It’s almost laughable. Anybody who sees this movie knows this movie is a shot between the eyes of the NFL. Not because we’re going after the NFL. Just because the truth is our defense you know and it’s a powerful movie about human beings. It’s not a hit piece about corporate America.

This movie is set to premiere just a few months after the NFL settled a massive lawsuit with former players who suffer from CTE or other head trauma–although that settlement is still pending appeals. As a result of the class action lawsuit, former players could receive up to $5 million for their head injuries sustained while playing, and family members of players who died will also be entitled to money. All said and done, the funds paid by the NFL to former players or relatives could top $1 billion.

Additionally, the NFL is still prone to criticism for its handling of CTE and other mental and brain health issues. New research in September emphasized the risk for NFL players after conducting autopsies on 91 deceased NFL players–87 had signs of CTE.

“Concussion” will be released on Christmas Day, and although it doesn’t provide any new information about the risk of CTE when it comes to our nation’s most famous football players. Mike Freeman, NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report, pointed out the magnifying glass that “Concussion” forces football fans to apply to their favorite sport, saying:

This is the best football movie ever made (and I’ve seen every one), because it does something that I like to do, which is pause and take a look around. I will go back to loving this sport, to playing fantasy football, to writing about the players, but for now, for right now, “Concussion” is causing me to look more closely at a sport we all adore.

And it isn’t pretty.

That’s hitting the nail on the head–because that closer look seems to be exactly the movie’s intention.

Anneliese Mahoney
Anneliese Mahoney is Managing Editor at Law Street and a Connecticut transplant to Washington D.C. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University, and a passion for law, politics, and social issues. Contact Anneliese at



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