Debate on the long-term effects of head traumas suffered by professional football players is a relatively new concern. For decades, professional teams of the National Football League downplayed the possible permanent brain damage to players who experienced repeated concussions. In this film, Will Smith portrays forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu, who was on staff at one of the hospitals in Pittsburgh.
As the picture begins, Dr. Omalu is a brilliant loner who is one of the staff members in the morgue who is very talented at his calling to find out the reason that each individual died, using each autopsy as a way to determine the truth. He is an immigrant from Africa, and has no knowledge of or interest in American football.
His life changes when a Pittsburgh Steelers hero commits suicide and ends up as one of his “patients.” This autopsy does not give Dr. Omalu the answers he seeks. He researches medical journals and game films and persistently peels away the layers of information to come to the conclusion that repeated head trauma causes irreversible damage to the brain. One difficulty in convincing others this is a fact is that the proof is only visible during an autopsy, not in any of the MRIs or Cat Scans that can be taken while the patient is alive. Three other physicians support him, including his boss (Albert Brooks) and a former professional football team doctor (Alec Baldwin).
This drama intertwines scenes of professional football action, tortured players whose personality changes to the point where their family members are scared to be alone with them, and the slow process of Dr. Omalu’s growing certainty that not only is his hypothesis correct, but that the NFL has suspected that this is the case for some time. Much like the tobacco companies in the late 20th Century, the NFL went on the attack and ridiculed scientists who knew the truth and tried to publicize it.
Concussion is a compelling film, and does a stellar job of showing how one person’s dedication to exposing a hidden evil can change and save lives. Check the film out for a week, and make your own decision. It is found on the media shelves in the Bellevue University Library.
Originally posted in the Freeman/Lozier Library’s quarterly newsletter, More Than Books, V. 20 No. 2, Spring 2017.