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 #32 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Prolific Author Joe Posnanski Joins the Show – Posnanski is one of America’s best sportswriters and has twice been named the best sports columnist in America by the Associated Press Sports Editors. We chat about his new book, “Why We Love Baseball,” his new Substack newsletter called Joe Blogs, and we cover topics including how baseball treats its fans, MLB’s numerous rule changes this past season, how the sport can become more fan-friendly, the greatness of Negro Leagues champion Buck O’Neil, and much more.
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Episode #31 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Foul Ball Safety Is Still an Important Issue at Ballparks – Our guests are Jordan Skopp, founder of FoulBallSafety.com and Greg Wilkowski, a Chicago based attorney. We discuss the historical problem of foul balls injuring fans and why some teams are still hesitant to put up protective netting in some minor league and college baseball parks.
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
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.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
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.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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