Concussion is an important movie that will change lives. It will lead some parents to forbid their kids from playing football. It will cause some football players to step away from the game.
Concussion tells the story of retired NFL players whose brain damage has led them to take their own lives. Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith), a Pittsburgh medical pathologist, investigates and finds that these players suffer from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). When his information is presented to the NFL, it is rebuffed.
This is not new information. News of these suicides has been widely reported. The GQ magazine article that the script is based on ran in 2009. PBS’s Frontline covered the story two years ago. But Concussion is the first presentation of these facts featuring a major Hollywood star. (The 2012 death of NFL Hall of Famer Junior Seau is mentioned at the film’s end. News of Frank Gifford’s CTE diagnosis apparently came after the film was finished.)
Despite being too long and failing to provide a big payoff, Concussion offers a few reasons to check it out: Will Smith does a better job with a Nigerian accent than Alec Baldwin does with a Louisiana accent. Character actor David Morse brings a world of gloom to his portrayal of longtime Steelers center Mike Webster. Albert Brooks is wonderful as Omalu’s smartass (but supportive) boss. Omalu enjoys romance with Prema (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a woman he meets in church; she soon becomes his wife.
Will Concussion damage the popularity of the NFL? I don’t think so. Football continues to be the most exciting sport to watch on TV. The combination of grace and violence is compelling. Love of football and teams is well-entrenched in the hearts and souls of millions of Americans.
But any impact Concussion has will be another step that may lead the NFL to do more for player safety now and for players welfare after their careers end. It took many years and tons of evidence before the tobacco industry admitted what we all knew for decades… that smoking kills. Is it time for the NFL to concede that football—in some cases—kills?