Christmas Day Match-up: ‘Concussion’ vs. the NFL

“Concussion” stars Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist, who performed an autopsy on former NFL football player Mike Webster.  Webster, the long-time Pittsburgh Steeler center, sustained repeated blows to the head during his 16-year professional career and suffered a dementia similar to Alzheimer’s.  Unable to find an answer to his cognitive and intellectual impairment, Mike Webster died at the age of 50.

“Concussion” is based upon this GQ magazine article by Jeanne Marie Laskas, titled “Game Brain”.  Laskas describes Omalu’s immersion into Webster’s case and the lingering unknowns:

So Omalu carried Mike Webster’s brain to the cutting board and turned it upside down and on its side and then over again. It appeared utterly normal. Regular folds of gray matter. No mush. No obvious contusions, like in dementia pugilistica. No shrinkage like you would see in Alzheimer’s disease. He reviewed the CT and MRI scans. Normal. That might have been the end of it. He already had a cause of death. But Omalu couldn’t let it go. He wanted to know more about the brain. There had to be an answer. People don’t go crazy for no reason.

He went to his boss, pathologist Cyril Wecht, and asked if he could study the brain, run special tests, a microscopic analysis of the brain tissue, where there might be a hidden story.

There was nothing routine about this request. Another boss might have said, “Stick with the protocol,” especially to a rookie such as Omalu, who had not yet earned a track record, who was acting only on a hunch. But Wecht was famously never one to shy away from a high-profile case—he had examined JFK, Elvis, JonBenét Ramsey—and he said, “Fine.” He said, “Do what you need to do.”

A deeply religious man, Omalu regarded Wecht’s permission as a kind of blessing.

Directing only his second film, Peter Landesman is joined by veteran movie producer and director Ridley Scott (“The Martian”) on “Concussion”.  Here’s the trailer…

 Scheduled for release in theaters on Christmas Day, “Concussion” is rated PG-13.

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