On Christmas, a movie that makes one of the biggest corporations in the world look bad will hit theaters in wide release: Concussion. Based on a true story, the film follows Bennet Omalu, the Pittsburgh forensic pathologist who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in football players' brains, as he attempts to bring about awareness to the disease and faces stiff resistance from the NFL. It's set from the year Omalu stumbled across CTE in 2002 to 2012, and in that time frame, the NFL avoided responsibility for the issue by smearing the doctor's name.
Concussion is no doubt a dramatization of true events and likely won't demonstrably damage the NFL, at least not in the short term. However, the undeniable fact that the sort of hits sustained in professional football can have devastating effects on a person's brain in the long term could change the way football is played in its lower ranks. Just like any other sport, the NFL relies heavily on stars from the college system, which relies heavily on players in high school, and so on. If parents are spooked enough by Concussion and the harsh realities of playing football, they might be less inclined to send their kids to youth football programs. Eventually, the pool of talent in America could shift significantly to safer sports such as basketball and the NFL, in turn, would suffer from featuring an overall lower level of athleticism.
While the NFL has in recent years done as much as possible to limit concussions — rule changes to prevent hits to the head, more padded equipment, and investment in concussion-related research included — there's simply no way to completely eliminate those dangerous hits. What's even worse for the NFL is the fact that subconcussive hits (minor blows that don't cause concussions) are incredibly risky as well. Football in its current state is just a brutal sport. There's no two ways about it.
Will Smith, who portrays Omalu in Concussion, acknowledged that the film's subject matter disturbed him initially, but that it's an important story to tell. "I was actually repelled," he said of the script in a phone interview with Bleacher Report, "before I was drawn to it."
With former players becoming more and more outspoken about their struggles in post-NFL life, and some such as Junior Seau even tragically killing themselves, there's no doubt football's concussion problem isn't going away anytime soon. If the movie does its job by informing the masses, the ripple effect from parents to kids in youth football to the NFL could be the end of professional football as we know it. Whether it's seriously decreasing the level of contact or removing it altogether (which most fans would hate), eventually, something will have to give. Hopefully that happens before a truly terrible event unfolds on a national stage.
Cover image: Sony Pictures Entertainment via YouTube