Through a vast display of medical examinations and scientific data, the film “Concussion” directly links repeated violent brain trauma of NFL worker-athletes to dementia, depression, memory loss and even suicide.
It’s an ugly reality, and a bit uncomfortable for most football fans, but truth is, the National Football League (NFL) is a billion dollar industry that doesn’t a give a darn about its player-employees.
To the owners and corporate executives who reap most of the NFL’s financial gains, the NFL brand is the most profitable form of violent entertainment in the world. For the worker-athletes, professional football is a beloved passion that requires great strength, power, speed and courage. For the worker-athletes, it is also a game that may cost them their lives. In an undeniable fashion, “Concussion” lays it all out.
Lead actor Will Smith does an amazing job in this film. Smith fully embodies the Nigerian-born medical intellect, Dr. Bennet Omalu, with unwavering strength, grace, poise and focus – effortless, but intense. Omalu is a brilliant immigrant doctor who practices in the United States as a neuropathologist and city coroner. His work lands him in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
For Dr. Omalu, life was calm until he performs an autopsy on former Steeler great “Iron Mike” Webster. After being inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame, Webster had been found in his car after having committed suicide. Webster went from being a well-paid NFL warrior to being homeless, sniffing glue and pulling his teeth out with metal pliers.
Mike Webster had received over 70,000 violent blows to the head from his childhood up throughout his 18-year career in the NFL. As Dr. Omalu stated in the film, “The human brain wasn’t meant to absorb that kind of consistent violent impact.”
The further Omalu digs, the clearer it becomes that the NFL’s hard-hitting brand of entertainment and high speed collisions is not only costing athletes their arms, teeth, shoulders and legs, repetitive brain trauma is costing these athletes their lives. Omalu coins this condition “Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy” (CTE).
NFL executives may deny it, but the numbers speak for themselves. Eight former NFL players have committed suicide since 2011. Dave Duerson was NFL Man of Year in 1987 and a two-time NFL Super Bowl Champion with the New York Giants and Chicago Bears. In February 2011, Duerson killed himself by putting a shotgun to his chest and pulling the trigger. Duerson was only 50 years old. Kurt Crain of the Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins was 66. Ray Easterling of the Atlanta Falcons was 62.
In 2012, former San Diego Charger, Junior Seau was merely 43 years old when he committed suicide. Seau was one of the NFL’s all-time greatest linebackers. Andre Waters was 44. Jovan Belcher was 25. Paul Oliver was 29; all dead by suicide from self-inflicted gunshot wounds. According to a recent study at the Boston University School of Medicine, out of 34 NFL football players tested post-mortem, 33 tested positive for clear signs of CTE. As of January 2016, over 4,500 former NFL players are now in class-action suits against the NFL for its lack of care and denial of medical evidence.
The beauty and power of a film like “Concussion” is that it pulls back the covers. While the primary concern of NFL team owners is the value of their entertainment product, team doctors are paid serious sums of money to either minimize or completely ignore player conditions: headaches, torn ligaments, concussions, sprained ankles.
The NFL has known about CTE for years, yet refuses to acknowledge the long-term impact of repeated high speed collisions on mental and psychological health. Instead, coaches and team doctors resort to Vicodin, Percocets and Zoloft in order to “keep the show going.”
To the men on the field, professional football is the ultimate team sport, a game of skill and great sacrifice. To the NFL and its corporate executives, professional football is merely a business fueled by the American Dream and expendable labor.
Lamont Lilly is a contributing editor with the Triangle Free Press and organizer with Workers World Party.