For anyone over 30 years old, NFL Football is probably considered the greatest and most exciting sport in the United States. Most people can agree that the highlights in football are the most exciting, the most spectacular and invoke the most respect and awe for the skills of a great athlete than any other major sport. Unfortunately equal to the great highlights there are some great low-lights of some unfortunate player taking a very bad hit, perhaps breaking a leg, a knee, or suffering a concussion, which is one of the most common injuries in this league. For as long as the NFL has been around nobody ever heard of or talked about the long term effects of being a player this very violent sport. Then on September 24, 2002 the news that Mike Webster the NFL Center for 18 years with the Pittsburgh Steeler’s died at only age 50 and then everything changed.
At the end of Webster’s life he was in a state of financial and personal ruin and was having massive cognitive dysfunction, which was later diagnosed as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy by a pathologist in Pittsburgh Dr. Bennet Omalu . This new disease, known as CTE was discovered by Dr Omalu as the direct cause of constant head trauma that can only happen while playing football. For years prior to this discovery, the NFL routinely dismissed the many incidents of NFL players either going insane, dying young or having dementia as the result of premature Alzheimer’s, which considering the age of these men and the statistics was an implausible reason for these medical problems.
After Webster’s death, several other NFL players starting showing symptoms of this disease and 4 of them (Andre Waters , Dave Duerson , Junior Seau and Terry Long ) committed suicide. Duerson and Seau committed suicide by shooting themselves in the chest to enable doctors examine their brains after they killed themselves and Terry Long committed suicide by drinking a gallon of anti-freeze. CTE caused not only dementia but also violent behavior which in some cases even resulted in murder. What is very obvious from this story is that this discovery of CTE is not something that has happened recently, but it has been in fact part of the medical history of all NFL players after they retire. What was suggested in this movie is that the NFL has been covering up this problem for many years and even conducting tests to prove that concussions were not that important of a medical issue. At the end of the movie it was stated that 28% of all NFL players currently have some form of CTE, but you are made to believe that just about all of them have some form of the disease.
This movie was extremely well done and well acted, not only by Will Smith who played Dr. Omalu but also by Alec Baldwin who was great in his role as a former NFL neurologist and Albert Brooks who played the boss of Dr. Omalu at the Pittsburgh coroners office. It was no surprise that after the discovery of CTE was made, that the NFL not only denied that it was true, but threatened Dr Omalu and his boss with a Federal investigation that was later dropped and even had people following Dr Omalu’s wife around in her car and causing her enough stress that could have cost them their first child during a miscarriage.
So what is next for the NFL and this big problem with concussions and long term brain damage? I for one have always been surprised that the helmets the players wear provide such inadequate protection over so many years and so much technology. Perhaps there is no solution to this problem through the creation of much better helmets. Several rule changes have been made, and there have been improvements, but as is said in the movie, if just 10% of all parents forbid their son to play football then its likely that eventually the entire sport will fade away. The bottom line here really is, what is the point of great fame, exciting highlights and potentially great wealth when you might be so brain damaged and insane that you might kill someone in your family or take your own life? At the end of this movie, Dr Omalu is watching a high school football game and the movie ends with a huge collision between two young players. This is where we stand now in the NFL, inadequate head protection and where do we go from here?
I give this movie my highest recommendation and predict that it will be one of the 10 movies up for best pictures in the Academy Awards this year. The story behind this movie is also available on Amazon and is entitled Concussion.