As the NFL gears up for the beginning of the regular season and the emergent controversies around chronic head trauma and its impact on America’s modern-day gladiator sport surge, a new biopic will push those controversies to the forefront.
“Concussion” features Will Smith as Bennet Omalu, the Nigerian-born forensic pathologist who discovered chronic traumatic encephalothapy (CTE) when performing an autopsy on Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster in 2002. Ultimately, Omalu’s struggles to bring the issue of degenerative cognitive and psychological effects to the NFL’s and the public’s attention (both of which are dramatized in “Concussion”) led to his increased public visibility and admiration from NFL players. Omalu also famously participated in the autopsy of Junior Seau, the former New England Patriots linebacker who committed suicide in 2012—and ultimately preserved his brain for study—by shooting himself through the chest.
Omalu’s findings were initially covered up by the NFL, which tried to discredit him as a fraudulent practitioner. But growing medical concensus lead the NFL to eventually acknowledge the issue, although the organization’s handling of CTE and players’ health in general is still subject to immense criticism. In a memo unleashed during the Sony email leak (Sony Pictures is distributing “Concussion”), the studio proclaimed that they’d work under the assumption that “Concussion” would be a dangerous film:
CONCUSSION is going to piss off the NFL. We should not try to pretend otherwise. Moreover, there is no concession we could make short of agreeing to cancel the project entirely that could possibly satisfy them. Our strategy should thus be based on the assumption that we are going to be facing a powerful adversary that may try to prevent the movie from being made—and, failing that, to ensure that as few people as possible see it or take it seriously.
“Concussion” will be released on Christmas Day this year, and features Smith alongside Gugu Mbatha-Raw (“Belle,” “Beyond the Lights”), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (“Oz,” "Suicide Squad”) and Luke Wilson (“Old School,” “The Royal Tenenbaums”). It is directed by Peter Landesman (“Parkland”). Check out the trailer above.