“Sometimes in life, you’re asked to leave it alone.” That is a line from a forthcoming feature film. It is particularly true when it comes to offending Very Important Corporate Persons (VICPs) with anything that might affect their image – as well as their precious, multi-million dollar bottom line. In this case, the one being asked to “leave it alone” is a major film studio, and the VICP is the National Football League. The NFL has come under scrutiny in recent years over the effects of brain injuries on its players. The issue has been the target of Congressional hearings and the cause of action in a massive injury lawsuit brought by over 5,000 former football players.
In December, Sony Studios will be releasing Concussion, a biopic about Dr. Bennett Omalu, a forensic neuropathologist who specializes in the study of traumatic brain injuries. Dr. Omalu was the first physician to clinically identify a condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or “CTE.” The condition was once known as dementia pugilistica, and has long been recognized by boxing coaches (the popular term was “punch drunk”). It is usually caused by repeated blows to the head over a period of time. Symptoms include memory impairment, aggressive behavior, confusion, and depression. However, these symptoms do not usually appear until years later – and an accurate diagnosis requires a post-mortem.
According to a number of emails obtained by hackers, Sony CEO Peter Landesman was not pleased with the script. He had been in “discussions” with the film’s lead actor, Will Smith, who portrays Dr. Omalu, about “softening” certain aspects of the story. In other words, don’t make the NFL look so bad.
Nearly two years ago, PBS released its own documentary, entitled League of Denial. That film was a scathing exposé of the NFL and its twenty-year cover-up of connections between the sport and debilitating, long-term brain injuries. The PBS documentary was the result of a lengthy investigative report and featured interviews with the real Dr. Omalu. After Omalu published reports based on autopsies of late Pittsburgh Steelers players Mike Webster and Terry Long, he was targeted by the NFL. Dr. Omalu was publicly smeared and discredited by NFL publicists. In the documentary, Dr. Omalu reported the following conversation:
An NFL doctor said to me at some point, ‘Bennet, do you know the implications of what you’re doing?’ He said, ‘If 10 percent of mothers in this country would begin to perceive football as a dangerous sport, that is the end of football.’
Omalu adds: “I wish I never met Mike Webster…CTE has dragged me into politics of science, the politics of the NFL. You can’t go against the NFL. They’ll squash you.”
Omalu eventually left his research and went to work as a medical examiner in Northern California. Unfortunately for the NFL, the proverbial genie was out of the bottle. When former New England Patriots linebacker Junior Seau committed suicide in May of 2012, Omalu was drawn back into his research. Immediately, the NFL resumed their attacks, telling Seau’s son Tyler that Omahu was an unethical hack. Unfortunately, the NFL’s “biostitutes” at the National Institutes of Health confirmed Omalu’s diagnosis: Junior Seau had indeed suffered from CTE.
In response to the documentary, ESPN canceled its production agreement with PBS. Needless to say, PBS received no cooperation from the NFL.
Ironically, Sony is one of the few Hollywood studios that have no real business connections to professional football. Nonetheless, the screenwriters and the star of the film were pressured into revising the screenplay so as not to ruffle feathers or depict the NFL in a bad light.
Well, guess what, NFL? You can intimidate PBS and Sony Pictures, but you are not going to silence us, nor our Progressive media partners, nor our followers on social media. You have been willing to sacrifice the health and the lives of your modern-day gladiators and perpetuate an industry that is literally killing its participants, all in the name of making hundreds of millions of dollars. We intend to keep speaking out – loud and long.
And there isn’t one damned thing you can do about it.