“Concussion” tells the story of forensic pathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith), who founded research that revealed brain deterioration common among football players. The disorder (chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE) is a mouthful and doesn’t lend itself well to a movie title, but is a game changer in the world of contact sports.
CTE is the result of severe, repeated head trauma, including concussion, often experienced during both football practices and game days. It’s the type of injury that football players are prone and even accustomed to season after season. With the help of his boss, Dr. Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks) and former Pittsburgh Steelers team physician, Dr. Julian Bales (Alec Baldwin), Dr. Omalu makes CTE a trending topic not only in the medical industry, but among national sports commentary.
What’s most interesting is when Dr. Omalu compares a human brain to that of a woodpecker or a ram. Both animals have built-in “safety features” to protect their brains when making repeated contact; a human brain does not. CTE cannot be detected by a scan and can only be diagnosed after a person’s death, a fact he determined when performing an autopsy on former NFL player Mike Webster (David Morse), without previous knowledge of the person or the sport.
Webster played in the NFL for nearly two decades with a total of 245 career games. He died at the age of 50. CTE damaged Webster from the inside out. It affected his health, but also maybe more tragically, his mind. The movie centers around Dr. Omalu’s fight to bring his findings to light much to the chagrin of the NFL, an organization that the audience is reminded “owns a day of the week.”
Rather than seeing the movie as a battle between science and sport, “Concussion” depicts what the bigger picture is: raising awareness regarding brain injury in sports. There is implication that an athlete knows what he’s signing up for when playing for the NFL, but any given football player may not have previously known about CTE and its life-threatening side effects. The movie reveals that many players and their families were unaware of the severity brain trauma could cause over the course of a career. “Concussion” is not anti-football. It’s pro-knowledge.
To continue the dialogue, Sony Pictures has offered NFL players and their families free admission to the movie for the duration of the film’s run. By presenting their NFLPA membership card at any Cinemark theater, players can receive admission for themselves and one guest.
Will Smith delivers a powerful performance in a role that reveals the dark side of one of the nation’s most beloved pastimes. For many who have seen their football heroes suffer at the hands of mental illness or suicide, the movie might hit a personal note. But the biggest triumph is that Dr. Omalu’s steadfast research has been brought to light for the masses. What one does with this newfound knowledge is up to the individual.