As the NFL regular season gets ready to begin and millions of fans get ready to draft their fantasy league, there are some sobering details about professional football that few are aware of and many would like to ignore: concussions. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) or “post-concussion syndrome” is a disease that is plaguing pro football players. On December 1, 2012, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend (and the mother of their child) then drove to Arrowhead Stadium and committed suicide. Earlier that year former San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau shot himself in the chest. Both suffered from post-concussion syndrome.
As of December 2012, thirty-three former NFL players have been formally diagnosed post-mortem with CTE. As the NFL continues to try to bury the issue (they recently denied permission to Seau’s daughter to speak in-person at her father’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony over fears she would publicize the CTE debate), a new film looks to tackle the issue head on and today we have our first look at Concussion.
One of the most powerful organizations in the nation is the National Football League. In the film, Will Smith stars as Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian-born neuropathologist who made the first discovery of CTE and unwittingly took on the NFL who used their power to discredit him and work to keep the history of brain trauma a secret. The film is based on the 2009 GQ article “Game Brain” by Jeanne Marie Laskas and co-stars Alec Baldwin, Albert Brooks, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Luke Wilson and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
The trailer will look familiar to anyone whose seen this type of bio-thriller like The Insider, but is remarkable for how blatantly it goes after the NFL. The NFL is very protective of their brands and rarely gives Hollywood the rights to their teams and trademarks (Draft Day was one recent exception, but that agreement came with the “participation” of the league), but Concussion may be able to skirt some of those issues by focusing on true story, newsworthy events. You don’t see football players wearing NFL jersey or helmets, but you do see team logos and NFL stadiums. That Sony Pictures has opted to release this film in December, as the NFL is in the prime of its season, will be interesting to watch, especially if it picks up some awards steam and an Oscar push coincides with Super Bowl 50.
Concussion opens in theaters on Christmas Day.