Concussion

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Don’t watch football…Don’t like football and don’t even have it on my radar until Super Bowl.  So, why would I go to see a movie about football?  Well, first off because WILL SMITH is starring in it!  Secondly, the title alone caught my attention – CONCUSSION.

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Then, like a flash my memory began to place the pieces of the puzzle together. On May 2, 2012, like so many days on the news in Los Angeles, there was a “breaking news” item.  Apparently, Ex-San Diego Charger linebacker Junior Seau was found dead at his home in Oceanside, California from a fatal gunshot wound to the chest.   Efforts to revive him were unsuccessful.  That’s when all the bells and whistles went off for me.

Seau’s death was very similar to the way I read that former Chicago Bears great Dave Duerson ended his life. Duerson shot himself in the chest on February 17, 2011.  Turns out both these men had symptoms of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a trauma-induced disease common to NFL players and others who have received repeated blows to the head.

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These are just the two I recalled.  As I would learn from watching “Concussion”, CTE was like an epidemic sweeping former NFL players.  So why didn’t the NFL do something about it?

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Well, Dr. Bennet Omalu wasn’t about to that that go down! While working as a pathologist in Pittsburgh,  Omalu uncovered the truth, gave it a name and almost witnessed his medical career ruined while taking on one of the most powerful organizations in America – the National Football League (NFL).

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In the words of Dr. Omalu himself, “We’ve known since 1964 that cigarette smoking is harmful to your health. We’ve known for more than 40 years that alcohol damages the developing brain of a child. We’ve known since the mid-1970s that asbestos causes cancer and other serious diseases. Knowing what we know now, we do not smoke in enclosed public spaces like airplanes, we have passed laws to keep children from smoking or drinking alcohol, and we do not use asbestos as an industrial product…”

Dr. Omalu continues…”Over the past two decades it has become clear that repetitive blows to the head in high-impact contact sports like football, ice hockey, mixed martial arts and boxing place athletes at risk of permanent brain damage…Why, then, do we continue to intentionally expose our children to this risk?”   Well, Dr. Omalu…It’s like they say in the film, the NFL literally OWNS one day of the week on network television.  Do you know how many billions of dollars could potentially be lost if the NFL acknowledged they knew about CTE and did NOTHING?

According to PBS’s Frontline, an ongoing joint study by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University has found CTE in 87 of 91 examined brains of former NFL players, bringing the Boston lab’s total to 131 of 165 of former football players at all levels.  Well, with “Concussion” opening on Christmas Day the pressure is on the NFL like never before.  Will they cave in?  Only time will tell and time is what many of these players are not in abundance of.

Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu is giving the best performance of his career.  His conviction to every molecule of this character is the stuff Oscar winning performances are made of.  Smith has already garnered a Golden Globe nod for his work.  Let’s hope that the Academy Awards knocks next.

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Gugu Mbatha-Raw is a chameleon.  This doll seamlessly melts into whatever character’s skin she slips under.  As a love interest for Smith, she it the perfect choice.  Right before our eyes, we witness Prema going from a sweet, African girl to a woman with boundless amounts of  strength and conviction even her husband when wants to give up.

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Alec Baldwin is always good for a laugh, but his role as Dr. Julian Bailes is anything but comical.  Dr. Bailes turns out to be the one ally Omalu has in this whole sordid mess.  Baldwin realistically conveys the emotional and moral turmoil Bailes faces when going up against his own community.

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The actor who surprised me the most was Hill Harper.  As NFL lawyer, Christopher Jones, he is downright despicable…I loved it!!

With a film this heavy, you gotta have a comic relief somewhere and it was right on time with Albert Brooks (Dr. Cyril Wecht).

It will be interesting after this release to see just how much of an impact “Concussion” makes on the acknowledgment of CTE by the NFL or if how it changes the way football players approach the game from this point on!

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