By Ken Reed
I saw the new Will Smith movie, Concussion, last night.
It was better than I expected. For one, Will Smith is terrific in the role of Dr. Bennett Omalu, the pathologist who first discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy in the brain of former Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro Mike Webster. (Heavyweights Alec Baldwin and Albert Brooks also are excellent in the movie.) In addition, the movie is a dramatic success, in the whistleblower vs. The Machine genre. Fans and non-fans alike will be enthralled by the movie from start to finish. I was also happy that the movie stayed very close to the true story of CTE in former NFL players. There was limited poetic license taken. This story didn’t need much. The facts are powerful enough. I was also pleasantly surprised that the film makes it clear that repetitive sub-concussive blows to the head represent as big a problem as concussions themselves.
This movie can make a difference in terms of how the country views football. It can also save lives and prevent a lot of misery on the part of young athletes and their families. At the very least, it can spur dramatic changes to the rules of football (as one doctor has proposed), and dispel myths like there is a magic helmet that will prevent concussions going forward.
“We must dispel the myth that the helmet protects the brain from injury,” according to Dr. Keith Pochick.
“It does not. It protects the scalp and skull such that a player may strike with his head, yet feel little to no pain. The forces of profound acceleration and deceleration are transmitted to the brain, which has no pain receptors of its own.”
But Concussion can only have this positive socio-cultural effect if people get out and watch it. Concussion got off to a slow start at the box office, finishing fifth on Christmas Day and seventh after the Christmas weekend. Movies like Daddy’s Home and the latest Alvin and the Chipmunks film outdrew Concussion.
I get it. One of the big reasons we love sport is that it provides a nice diversion from the issues and challenges of everyday life. We don’t want anything to endanger the game of football. It’s too much fun to watch (and for some, to play). The problem is, it’s very hazardous to the human brain. Even the NFL now admits that nearly a third of its players will suffer from the horrible effects of CTE at some point in their lives. Autopsies have revealed CTE in 87 of the 91 NFL players brains studied to this point.
As parents, coaches, fans, and citizens, we need to stop avoiding this brain trauma issue and face it head-on. For one thing, the game needs to be changed significantly to make it safer. Then, as citizens, we have to deal with tough questions like, “Should public schools, using taxpayer dollars, sponsor the game of football in institutions designed to enhance the brain, not endanger it?” As parents, we have to decide if the short and long-term risks of football (and other high-contact sports) are worth the benefits.
But the only hope we have of making good decisions on questions like these is to be fully educated on the issue, and that requires facing, not avoiding, the problem.
More people need to see this movie. A lot more. Smith was so good that he might win an Oscar for his performance. That could increase attendance for this movie. But we can’t count on that or wait for that possibility.
It took decades for the country to accept the dangers of smoking, despite a mountain of evidence. Let’s hope it doesn’t take decades for the country to realize that human beings’ brains — especially those of youth and high school players — weren’t designed to play a game requiring battering ram tendencies.
Get out and see Concussion — and drag family members, friends and neighbors with you.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.” We discuss overzealous adults in youth sports, the dangers of sport specialization, youth sports entrepreneurs and the profit-at-all-costs mindset, and the growing socio-economic gap in youth sports.
Follow on Facebook: @SportsForumPodcast
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
Episode #23 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Olympian Benita Fitzgerald Mosley Talks Title IX, Youth Sports and the Olympics.
Episode #22 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Rethinking Sports Fandom with Author Craig Calcaterra – We discuss Calcaterra’s new book “Rethinking Fandom: How to Beat the Sports-Industrial Complex at Its Own Game” and explore new ways to be a fan.
Episode #21 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Chatting About a Broken Game With Baseball Writer Pedro Moura – Moura is a national baseball writer for Fox Sports. We discuss how and why the game of baseball is broken, what factors caused it, and offer a few thoughts on how to “fix” a great game.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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