Concussion: “The Movie”

in the dark

In the dark (not for long, I hope): Concussion has hit the theaters.

I was witness to two big events in the world of professional American Football this weekend:  I watched the movie Concussion and I saw the ugly contest which was the Pittsburgh vs. Cincinnati NFL playoff game.

Of the two events, the more damning, the more worrisome for the league, was the playoff game.

First, let me start with the movie, as I had intended on focusing on that in this blog post….until the playoff game happened.

The movie was well done overall, I thought.  I am no movie critic (I hope that goes without saying) and I rarely see things on the ‘Big Screen’ any more–I think the great movies came and went in the 60’s and 70’s, when I was growing up (Easy Rider, The Deerhunter, Apocalypse Now….).  Concussion (the movie) is largely a heroic story about one man’s personal struggle and vindication:  Dr. Bennet Omalu vs. the NFL, David vs. Goliath.  There are some typical Hollywood moments (e.g. the romancing of his future wife), but largely the film stays on track regarding the story of pathologist Dr. Omalu and his reintroduction of the term ‘chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)’ into the medical lexicon after his autopsy on the brain of the deceased football player, ‘Iron’ Mike Webster.

And Will Smith does an excellent job, I think, with his portrayal of Omalu.

I approached this movie not so much looking for entertainment, but to see if there were anything new in this story I might learn, and to see how the movie might present the science to the general viewing public.  I don’t think I learned anything new regarding the basic story.  This is not so much a criticism of the movie as an endorsement of the PBS documentary, ‘League of Denial,’ which came out two years ago and went into much more depth than a dramatization ever could.  And as for the science?  Once again, you’re better served viewing the documentary.  You won’t have to hear a clunker of a line like this: “Three cases is the scientific burden of evidence.  We have four.”

Now, on to the playoff game.

I don’t think the NFL will be able to survive if the sorts of hits occurring in this game, regardless of their ‘legality,’ continue. I think the public will pull away from its continued (and currently growing) support of the professional game, and I think the pipeline will run dry:  I think that ever shrinking numbers of youngsters will pursue the sport of football, and they will either migrate to other sports (not such a bad trend) or to the perceived ‘safety’ of iPads and video games (a really bad trend given childhood obesity rates in the U.S.).


Ryan Shazier delivering dangerous hit, resulting in concussion to Giovanni Bernamrd


Vontaze Burfict about to launch into Antonio Brown–kids, this is NOT a tackle

Ryan Shazier on Giovanni Bernard was deemed a legal hit (i.e. no flag thrown), presumably because the receiver carrying the ball was not ‘defenseless.’  Vontaze Burfict on Antonio Brown was deemed illegal (and penalized) because it was clearly delivered to a defenseless player, and appears on viewing to be downright dirty.  Both hits were extremely dangerous, to both players involved.  Looking at the Shazier on Bernard hit, for example (see photo), not only is the receiver at risk, but the defenseman is in a perfect position for a catastrophic neck injury. Where is ‘heads up’ tackling????

Concussions and more concussions. There seems to be no end to the discussion, and in support of this we continue to publish concussion-based research at a brisk pace. In our current issue alone we have new research on the effects of American concussion legislation on reporting of sport-related concussions; a study involving vestibular rehabilitation of adolescents suffering from concussion; and research I was involved in on persistent orthostatic intolerance post-concussion using tilt-table testing.

And if that’s not enough, we even have one of our Associate Editors, Dr. Tom Trojian weighing in on the fears of youth football and its potential association with the development of CTE in this Philadelphia Inquirer piece. As for myself, I’ll be giving a Grand Rounds lecture on this in a few weeks, and will post the video to this blog, in addition to the post I have already composed regarding my concerns that there has been a lot more hype than science to date in the conclusions being drawn regarding the risk of CTE to youth football players.

Did you see the movie? Have you watched the NFL playoff games?  Let us know.

Here’s to hoping we’ll see more good football and less ugly (non)tackling in the NFL playoff games that remain this season.


About sportingjim
I work at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio USA, where I am a specialist in pediatric sports medicine. My academic appointment as an Associate Professor of Pediatrics is through Ohio State University. I am a public health advocate for kids' health and safety. I am also the Deputy Editor for the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine.

4 Responses to Concussion: “The Movie”

  1. roboh98 says:

    Nice post. I saw that ugly Steelers-Bengals was hard to watch the hit on Antonio Brown. I read something about the concept of helmet-less tackling drills may play a role in reduction of concussions. I thought that was interesting and I wonder if Rugby has overall less concussions?

    • sportingjim says:

      Thank you for that link, I am not 100% sure about the rugby question, but I am attending the USA Rugby Sports Medicine Symposium early
      March (timed with Rugby 7’s tour visit to Las Vegas) and will post the updated infor on twitter when I get that — @cjsmonline. Cheers!

    • sportingjim says:

      hi there
      this just came out in pub med thought you might enjoy it:
      usa college rugby vs. college football injury rates

  2. Pingback: Shedding light in the dark | Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine Blog

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