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Hollywood vs. the NFL: Will Smith stars in the football drama “Concussion”

Jelani Scott & Wesley Eggleston | Sports Editor/Staff Writer

Set to be released on Christmas Day, Hollywood’s latest sports drama, Concussion, starring Oscar nominee Will Smith as lead character Dr. Bennet Omalu, is already causing quite a stir. Since 2002, the Nigerian forensic pathologist has been largely responsible for bringing the issues of concussions in the sport of football to light in the modern day world. Smith’s portrayal of the groundbreaking doctor will show him highlighting the major issue of head trauma that has occurred for decades in the NFL.

The film will also star Luke Wilson as infamous NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Alec Baldwin as Omalu’s partner-in-crime Dr. Julian Bailes and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Omalu’s wife, Prema Mutiso. Dr. Omalu is also credited with being a driving force for the discovery of the brain disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, which has caused numerous athletes to live horribly post-retirement.

“People can lose their ability to think if we don’t do this right…you [have] kids, five, six, seven years old, and you [have] to take precautions. There’s ways to prevent this,” said Hampton Assistant Athletic Director Donovan Rose. In 2013, long-running PBS program Frontline reported that the NFL approved a rule that prohibited “runners and defenders from lowering their heads and hitting with their helmets when outside of the tackle box — the area of the field between the two offensive tackles” and penalized teams 15-yards for such hits.

Earlier this year, ESPN reported, using data via The Associated Press, that there were “111 concussions in games during the 2014 regular season, down from 148 in 2013, and 173 in 2012, a 36 percent drop over that three-year span.” Discussing concussions is a touchy subject Americans would love to avoid because the reasons why concussions occur are the same reasons why hardcore fans love the game of football. The hard hits are part of the reason why the sport is so popular.

Fans may not like to see their favorite team be penalized but it has become this way because concussions have gained more exposure from Dr. Omalu and his team’s findings. In one of the film’s scenes, Pittsburgh neurologist Dr. Joseph Maroon (played by actor Arliss Howard) tells Smith’s Omalu about the unwanted doors he will open. “If just ten percent of the mothers in America decide that football is too dangerous for their sons to play, that is it…it is the end of football,” he reprimands.

While this effect has yet to be seen in real life, more work has been done recently that may discourage future football players. In 2012, following a study on football players at an Indiana high school, Purdue University researchers concluded, “high school football players over the course of two seasons [will have] changes in brain activity that significantly correlates to the number and distribution of hits those players took.”

They also found that “changes in the region of the brain that have been associated with CTE, results which suggest that detrimental effects of hits to the head may be cumulative and compounding.”

Concussion may have audiences wondering how it could change the NFL’s public perception. The time for everything to be put on the table will finally arrive when the holiday season comes in three weeks.

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