‘Concussion’ Tackles Tough NFL Issues

By Branna Calloway 

December 24, 2015

Concussion feels timely, especially in light of last Sunday’s Panthers game where the Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr. launched himself into a helmet-to-helmet collision with CB Josh Norman. Norman was put on concussion protocol and Beckham received a one-game suspension, which he appealed, however, the suspension was upheld. Just one more example of the sometimes ego-charged violence that underscores America’s favorite sport.

Dr. Bennet Omalu, played superbly by Will Smith, whose full surname Onyemalukwubew means “if you know, come forth and speak,” never meant to discover a conspiracy inside the National Football League to cover up players’ debilitating brain damage. He was just an unassuming but brilliant forensic pathologist trying to do right by his patients, dead or not. Sometimes, in order for change to begin, one man has to make the earnest decision to stand up and tell the truth.

Dr. Bennet Omalu, played by Will Smith. Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

In that way, Concussion is a very American story of a gifted immigrant trying to find his place, only here that journey for Omalu is triggered by the plight of former Pittsburgh Steelers star center and Hall of Famer “Iron Mike” Webster played by David Morse. From his duties at the Allegheny County Coroner’s Office, Omalu’s journey takes shape and we get a real glimpse of the men behind the talent. It takes a lot of courage to not only oppose one of the most football-steeped towns in the game but also the multibillion dollar industry holding the Sunday nights of a country hostage with awe-inspiring displays of power and beauty. This very power stands stark contrast to the fragility of these very human titans who hurl themselves at each other for their shot at distinction, fortune and ultimately legacy.

The legacy of Omalu himself comes into question as strong-arm tactics are used to silence his research into the condition he names Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). His opponents go so far as bringing a federal investigation against his esteemed mentor and colleague, Cyril Wecht (a very good Albert Brooks), a former president of the American Academy of Forensic Science. The conflict culminates in an ostensible meeting, for show only, with the NFL’s newly appointed commissioner, Roger Goodell (Luke Wilson), led by Dr. Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin), an Omalu ally and Mike Webster’s former physician.

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

At points, this finely paced drama plays like a highlight reel of the man who brought the NFL’s failed policy on head trauma to light. No formal acknowledgement of Dr. Omalu’s research linking CTE to concussions was ever made by the NFL until 2009. In 2012, star Junior Seau’s high profile suicide brought the concussion talk back to national attention. A lawsuit brought by more than 5,000 former football players reached a settlement in federal district court in April 2015, unfortunately no payments will be made until all appeals are exhausted.

Star Rating: 4 out of 5 

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