4 Stars – Inspiring
The true story of Dr. Bennet Omalu’s discovery and campaign to protect football players from repeated, mind-altering concussions is told in Peter’s Landsman’s film Concussion. A Kenyan-born genius who graduated from medical school at the age of 16 and holds eight advanced degrees as well as multiple board certifications, Omalu is a board-certified forensic pathologist. When he investigated the death of the Pittsburgh Steeler’s superstar center Mike Webster (David Morse), he discovered that Webster’s brain was damaged because of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease caused by the estimated 70,000 blows to his head he suffered as a football player.
Thinking that his discovery will be welcomed by the National Football League, Omalu’s naiveté quickly ends when he is not only stonewalled but professionally threatened and forced to leave Pittsburgh. Although the film is accused of softening the response of the NFL, it is clear that the league has little desire to stop the danger to their players.
Webster’s supervisor Dr. Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks) is supportive of Omalu’s research as is the former Steeler’s team physician Dr. Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin). But they understand far more than Omalu how strong the NFL is both financially and politically. An example of this is when Wecht jokingly explains that the NFL owns a day of the week, the same day that was formerly owned by the church. The hyperbole of course is the comparison of over 132 million Americans in church each Sunday and 2.1 million in the stadiums throughout the week. But when you add those who watch football on TV, the estimate is over 17 million viewers each game and 114 million viewers of the 2015 Super Bowl. Clearly, this is a lucrative business.
The moral and spiritual motivations of Omalu and his wife Prema (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) are clearly presented in the film. Sharing the Christian faith as Catholics, they both turn to God for strength as they commit to telling the truth regardless of any personal cost they may experience. This is seen clearly when Prema reminds Omalu that it is no coincidence that God brought him the responsibility to reveal this truth because his Kenyan name is Onyemalukwubwe, which means that “he (she) who knows, speaks” the truth.
Though the film reveals in the credits some of the changes that have occurred since Omalu first published his paper in 2005, in real life he continues to campaign to stop young people whose brains are still developing from having the repeated head trauma that football and other sports require. The concussion protocols of the NFL and school football programs are making a difference but the question is: do we just want to lower the number of people injured for sport or do we want to protect every child and every player? Cleary, for Omalu, just reducing the injuries is not enough for he believes that every child’s and every player’s life matters.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. Football is often called a “gladiator sport” because of the physical danger involved. Although we could argue that adults have the right to choose, Omalu says that children do not have the life-experience or sometimes the freedom to choose. Do you think children should play full contact football, boxing or be allowed to use their heads in soccer or should modified forms of these sports be played in schools that removes the danger of concussions?
2. The NFL currently brings in 9 billion dollars a season, but the commissioner, Roger Goodell (Luke Wilson), wants to increase this to 25 billion by the year 2027. The fact that many, many people make their living off this industry makes it even more difficult to protect the players. What do you think the solution might be?
3. The film clearly expresses Omalu and his wife’s Christian belief that God wants them to protect the children and players. Do you believe they are truly on a God-given mission? If not, what do you think of their claim that they are serving God in this way?