Concussions being regarded as serious medical conditions is a relatively new occurrence. For many years, “getting your bell rung” was something people were expected to shrug off and keep playing. In the sports world, a common method was to take a couple aspirin and get back on the field. This downplaying of a serious medical condition lead to a whole generation of football players that, long after their playing days were over, began experiencing symptoms of a disease now known as CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). ‘Concussion’ tracts the efforts of Nigerian born Pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu, played by Will Smith, and his efforts to convince the National Football League that it’s policies and regulations are leading to irreversible long-term damage to players. The movie opens with Omalu in a Pittsburgh morgue in 2002, as he is assigned to do an autopsy of beloved Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster after his untimely death at the age of 50. Against the wills of his coworkers Omalu takes extra time and effort as he meticulously examines the diseased player until, in a dramatic turn of events, he finds irregularities in the autopsy of the brain.
His discovery: a disease he called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. After numerous other autopsies of ex NFL players, he determined that this disease appeared to tie directly with the repetitive brain injuries incurred in football, this was not welcome news to the NFL. The problem was fundamental, as long as football is being played there will always be a risk of CTE. Concussion’s dramatic core is solid and its unwillingness to sugarcoat the NFL’s strategies is bound to spur mixed feelings about the NFL.
When it comes to how the league employed a campaign of deception, intimidation, and misinformation to protect their profits at the cost of human lives and health, it seems they’re not much different from big tobacco companies. Concussion argues that it wasn’t just a case of the NFL turning a blind eye, but that it actively worked against Omalu, demonizing his efforts and disparaging him. These efforts included pulling funding for Boston University CTE study aimed at discovering the long-term effects of brain injuries only after Omalu was brought into the study. Omalu, as a first-generation immigrant, has little knowledge of the sport and can’t seem to wrap his head around the disturbing facts of big business in America. Even though ‘Concussion’ paints Omalu simplistically and at times naively on occasion, it doesn’t diminish his central argument: why would an organization so unethically hide the damage its game was doing instead of being forthright?