Concussion

Concussion makes you sick with guilt for being an NFL fan.  As the movie unfolds, the names and stories of these tormented souls bring back memories of news articles you’ve read, and you know that even if some of the details are fictionalized, all the important ones are true.  And even though Sony’s leaked emails reveal they toned down the movie to avoid kicking the “hornet’s nest” that is the National Football League, the watered down version is horrifying enough.  Concussion makes you feel dirty for ever having watched a Super Bowl, let alone having bought a ticket, because involvement as a fan means you actively contributed to the destruction of so many lives.

Mike Webster really died in his pickup truck.  Justin Strezelczyk really died in a fiery crash because he drove into oncoming traffic while being chased by the police.  Terry Long really drank antifreeze.  Andre Waters really shot himself in the head.  Dave Duerson really was an NFLPA executive who

US PRESSWIRE Sports Archive-Historical

The real-life Mike Webster.  RIP.

fatally shot himself in the chest so he could donate his brain to science (and Junior Seau really did the same).  All of these former players were 50 or younger when they died.  All have been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is a degenerative brain disease that causes symptoms of dementia including memory loss, aggression, confusion and depression.  The scariest thing is that these are just a few of the former players who have died from CTE, or are living with CTE-like symptoms (a CTE diagnosis cannot be confirmed until after death), and there are thousands more who almost surely are living with the same symptoms and/or other neurological conditions like Lou Gehrig’s disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or dementia.

That alone would have been enough for Concussion to make me uncomfortable but a personal connection made these issues all too real.  Growing up, I was a good athlete but my brother Bryan was better.  He was good enough to be playing both basketball and rugby on provincial teams at age 16, and then it was time to make a choice.  He chose rugby because he loved hitting people (which makes sense because he’s kind of an asshole too).  Focusing on rugby made him even better at it, and after high school he went out west to play for the Canadian junior national team.

And then everything went south in a huge way.  His first concussion was well in the past, suffered at age 14 while playing quarterback.  We didn’t think of it at the time but as the hits piled up, every big hit hurt him more and took him longer to recover from.  By the time he was playing national-level rugby, and getting hammered repeatedly by other 6’5″, 240 pound monsters like himself, he was also experiencing blackouts, memory loss, chronic pain and who knows what else.  When he came to at the top of a mountain and had no idea how he had gotten there (turns out he ran the mile from his house then continued all the way to the top), it was a rude awakening in more ways than one.  That was the end of his rugby career but only the beginning of his suffering.  He lost years to pain, headaches, and nausea, he lost his desired career as a firefighter, and he almost lost himself.

Bryan’s story has taken a better turn lately, as he has found treatments and medications that help him manage his pain and live his life. But for me, Concussion was a terrifying reminder that Bryan could have been Mike Webster.  He may still be.  Bryan’s only 36, which is how old Justin Strezelczyk was when he drove into a tanker truck.  Mike Webster was still playing football at 36, so 50 is still a long way off for Bryan and countless others.

Omalu-45

The real-life Dr. Bennet Omalu.

Will Smith is decent in the role of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the coroner who autopsied Mike Webster and brought a lot of these issues to light after so many years of darkness and denial.  His accent is not as distracting as in the trailer but I couldn’t escape the feeling that the script was designed to include the phrases that Smith was better at saying in an African accent (“Tell the truth.  Tell the truth!”).  The same accent probably would have been more palatable coming from an unknown actor but does this movie get made or seen if Will Smith isn’t starring?  So while I probably wouldn’t have nominated him for a Golden Globe, I can see how he got one.  He is obviously trying here and maybe that was the problem for me.  In my view Albert Brooks (as Dr. Omalu’s mentor) and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (as his wife) both gave better performances than Smith.

Concussion makes sure to note the similarity between the NFL’s treatment of concussions and big tobacco’s treatment of cancer, and the comparisons are apt.  They still ring true, especially when the class action settlement between the NFL and 4,500 former players was conditional on the NFL never having to admit what it knew about the danger of concussions, or how long it’s known.  It’s easy to read between the lines.

The hits these players took (and gave) are going to kill many of them.  And we watched and cheered.  For me, Concussion made me realize that I’m long overdue to stop cheering and stop pretending that any of this is okay.

For that, I’m glad I saw Concussion.  I’m not sure the movie works as well as it should, because it seemed at times to soften its message in an effort to not seem too preachy.  I’m thinking particularly of a speech Smith’s character gives where he says he doesn’t hate football after being persecuted by the NFL for his research, which to me rang false.  Still, despite that scene and a few similar missteps, Concussion got to me and made me think, and that’s worth something.

Concussion gets a score of seven (six for the touchdown and one for the PAT) out of ten.

 

Advertisements

32 thoughts on “Concussion

    1. Jay

      Yeah, it’s kind of like the gladiators of ancient rome…it’s barbaric to think of it now, but is football really all that different?
      Maybe the biggest difference is that football isn’t just a sport\entertainment, it’s a very lucrative business.

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
  1. Jay

    I guess other people do jobs that risk their lives – the difference is, they know it. I think these kids at least deserve to make an informed choice.

    Like

    Reply
  2. fragglerocking

    It’s the same over here with rugby and I guess boxing has similar issues. But lots of blokes really like playing the sports and they must know the dangers by now. I don’t like any of it, interesting review anyhow. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Sean Post author

      It’s not just football, it’s rugby, boxing, hockey, and probably more. I’m not sure whether people know the dangers. Certainly my generation didn’t know how badly you could get hurt playing these sports, and that’s not all that long ago. Hopefully things are changing and this movie may play a part in getting the message out.

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
  3. Amy Reese

    I heard an interview on NPR with Will Smith talking about this movie. I guess he kind of had a hard time doing it. He mentioned the doctor knew next to nothing about the NFL, so it’s too bad the movie got preachy. It sounds like it really didn’t need to go there at all! I’m sorry about your brother’s injuries. I had no idea all these players had these tragic lives after the NFL and that you can’t know about it until after…hopefully, at the very least, players with injuries can get the help they need.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Jay

      I sort of thought that during the movie too. In a way, it might bring peace to the families to know that repeated injury caused an illness that caused them to lose their loved one. But wouldn’t it be nicer to be able to use this knowledge to treat it while they’re still alive? Before they go crazy?

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  4. Birgit

    I can’t help but think of Boxing and Hockey as well. I recall, when I was very little, my mom said I may have been 4 yrs old, my dad was watching a boxing match on the old black and white TV. I remember seeing the one man hanging listless in the ropes and the other boxer continuing to punch him. My dad was yelling at the TV why the ref was not stopping it. My dad never watch another boxing match…oh…the man died. My brother just saw this film and found it thought provoking since he works for the Canadian Minor Hockey league Assoc. So horrible to hear what your brother and your family went through and continue to experience. I hope he has stabilized and is getting the right treatment

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Sean Post author

      Thanks. My brother is doing well. He’s still got pain but he’s able to manage it now. He’s one of the lucky ones. I just saw an article today on Gary Goodridge (former UFC heavyweight fighter who’s from my hometown) who has been diagnosed with CTE and suffers from memory loss and depression. That’s yet another sad story in a long, long list.

      Like

      Reply
  5. J.

    This sounds really interesting. Pretty horrific stuff, but I’m not too surprised by the stance of the NFL when it comes to trying to throw something of a lid on this (nor Sony, actually). Big money, huh?

    I guess if the movie opens the eyes of a fraction of NFL fans (or fans of any sports that have that kinda regular high impact trauma) that’s a good start.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Sean Post author

      Yes, I think it’s all about awareness rather than banning football but in this case awareness makes it really hard to let your kids play football, doesn’t it?

      Like

      Reply
      1. J.

        I reckon so. Not a sport I can say I fully understand … I just see folks run and smash into each other. A lot. Some of the collisions make me a little nauseous.

        Like

  6. Brittani

    That’s a scary story about your brother. This kind of thing freaks me out. So much so that I really hope I can steer my own kid towards playing soccer instead of football.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  7. reocochran

    I am sad for Sean’s brother and msny athletes who have had their heads injured. There is Muhammed Ali with boxers, there are the ones you listed in football, rugby and hockey. I think soccer head butting balls probably could damage brains too. Hope that they will figure out ways to have safe sports, sad about tragedies mentioned. I will possibly see this, probably not at theater. I have a hard time with sad movies. Last few years, I cried so much at the movies, I thought “12 years a slave” “Still Alice,” “Selma” and others were great but I got nearly sick from how much I cried. What was the one who was in the concentration camp a couple years ago? “Unbreakable?”

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  8. Liz A.

    It’s time for this wake up call, but movies like this tend to get a bit preachy. I think it has something to do with being “message movies”. But I do like a good message movie. Sometimes.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  9. SLIP/THROUGH - Dan

    I was more moved by your personal point of view on this important subject than by the trailer. The movie seems a little melodramatic, even if it’s an interesting topic. Good to hear Raw was impressive, she’s one of my fav rising stars. Thanks for sharing your story too.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  10. Pingback: Awards Season Kickoff – 2015 Golden Globes and SAG Awards Nominations | ASSHOLES WATCHING MOVIES

  11. Pingback: Yes, #OscarsSoWhite, but can we really blame the Academy? | ASSHOLES WATCHING MOVIES

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s