Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars
Growing up a teenager in the 70’s, the dominant football team was the Pittsburgh Steelers. They were stocked with hall of fame players, including Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, “Mean” Joe Greene and Jack Lambert. Another hall of famer was center Mike Webster. Webster was always a favorite of mine. A huge man who could seemingly take on the opposite teams entire defensive line if necessary. I liked the fact that he never wore a jersey with sleeves, the idea being that the opponent couldn’t grab them. Mike Webster died in September 2002. Little did he know that he would be remembered more for his death than for his playing.
Built on a solid performance by Will Smith, “Concussion” introduces us to Dr. Bennet Omalu (Smith), whose job is as a coroner for Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. When Mike Webster dies, it is Dr. Omalu who performs the autopsy. The Steelers quickly announce that Webster has died of a heart attack but Dr. Omalu has found something different. Irregularities in Webster’s brain, which the doctor named Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, best known as CTE. Dr. Omalu learned that, in the past six months of his life, Webster had lived in his truck under a Pittsburgh overpass. He suffered dementia and had attempted suicide multiple times. Dr. Omalu writes up his opinions and publishes them in 2005, estimating that players like Mike Webster get hit in the head in excess of 70,000 times in a career. At first, the NFL disregards the doctor’s opinion but, the next year, they ask that the paper be discarded, calling it “a failure” and “completely wrong.” David just work up Goliath, but like that fabled battle good must triumph.
As someone who played football and had his “bell rung” a couple of times, I was anxious to see how this story would be portrayed. The filmmaker (director Landesman also wrote the script) does a balanced job and the only reason one side of the issue looks better is because it is coming from a concern of caring, not of greed. Like the Big Tobacco Companies and the Asbestos Manufacturers, the truth has been out there, but kept hidden. The film allows you to make up your mind on where you stand.
I played football when I was a youngster, as did my son. Thankfully we were both much better in baseball and that is the sport we pursued in high school and beyond. Should I ever be blessed with a grandson, I hope he follows in our footsteps.