‘Concussion’ Tells the Truth about NFL Medical Neglect
by Lamont Lilly
Through a long history of medical examinations and scientific data, the film Concussion directly links repeated violent brain trauma of NFL worker-athletes to dementia, depression, memory loss, mental illness and even suicide. The truth is all laid out here. Yes! It’s an ugly reality, and a bit uncomfortable for most football fans, but truth is, the National Football League (NFL) is a billion dollar industry that doesn’t a give a damn about its player-employees.
To the owners, management and corporate CEO’s who reap most of the NFL’s financial gains, the NFL brand is the greatest most profitable form of violent entertainment in the world. For the worker-athletes, professional football is a beloved passion that requires great strength, power, speed and courage. For the worker-athletes, it is also a game that may cost them their lives. In a melodramatic and undeniable fashion, Concussion lays it all out, right in front of you. For those who want the truth, Peter Landesman’s Concussion is a monumental film that needs to be seen.
For those of you who are Will Smith fans, you won’t be disappointed. Will Smith, does an amazing job in this film. One would never think that this was the same Grammy-winning Hip Hop kid from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Not at all. As a seasoned veteran among Black actors, and an obvious artistic descendant of Sidney Poitier, Smith fully embodies the Nigerian-born medical intellect, Dr. Bennet Omalu with unwavering strength, grace, poise and focus – a kind of effortless intensity I haven’t seen from Will Smith since his cinematic portrayal of Muhammad Ali in the 2001 release, Ali.
Dr. Bennet Omalu is a brilliant immigrant doctor who practices in the United States as a neuropathologist and city coroner. His work lands him Pittsburg, Pennsylvania – home of the old steel mills and the Pittsburg Steelers. For Dr. Omalu, life was pretty stable, calm and peaceful until he performs an autopsy on former Steeler great, (Center) Mike Webster. After being inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame, Webster had been found in his car after having committed suicide.
After a thorough autopsy and a series of self-financed medical examinations, Dr. Omalu came to realize that longtime Steeler, “Iron” Mike Webster had been quietly going insane for years. In a brief span, Webster went from being a well-paid NFL warrior to being homeless, sniffing glue and pulling his teeth out with metal pliers. Truth is, Mike Webster has received over 70,000 violent blows to the head from his childhood up throughout his 18 year career in the NFL. As Dr. Omalu very accurately stated in the film, “The human brain wasn’t meant to absorb that kind of consistent violent impact.”
Team owners may deny it, but the raw physical evidence cannot. The further he digs, the clearer it becomes to Dr. Omalu that the NFL’s hard-hitting brand of entertainment and high speed collisions is not only costing worker-athletes their arms, teeth, shoulders and legs, repetitive brain trauma is costing these athletes their lives. Omalu coins this condition “Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)“. Play if you will, but it’s important that these athletes know the full truth about this business.
Just like the giant tobacco companies used to deny their impact on cancer and other related illnesses, Concussion clearly illustrates how the National Football League is just as guilty in their denial of the impact of consistent brain trauma. The numbers speak for themselves. Eight former player-employees of the NFL have committed suicide since 2011.
Dave Duerson was NFL Man of Year in 1987 and a two-time NFL Super Bowl Champion with the New York Giants and Chicago Bears. In February 2011, Duerson killed himself by putting a shotgun to his chest and pulling the trigger. Duerson was only 50 years old. Kurt Crain of the Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins was 66. Ray Easterling of the Atlanta Falcons was 62. In 2012, former San Diego Charger, Junior Seau was only 43 years old when he committed suicide. Seau was one of the NFL’s all-time greatest linebackers, who just a few years after sheer greatness, shot himself dead. Andre Waters was 44. Jovan Belcher was 25. Paul Oliver was 29; all dead by suicide from self-inflicted gunshot wounds.
In May of 2015, 25-year-old Adrian Lynn Robinson hung himself to death after spending time with 6 different NFL teams between 2012 and 2015. In 2005, Pittsburg Steeler offensive lineman, Terry Long committed suicide by drinking a gallon of antifreeze. According to a recent study at the Boston University School of Medicine, out of 34 NFL football players tested post-morterm, 33 tested positive for clear signs of CTE.
As of January 2016, over 4,500 former NFL players are now in class action suits against the NFL for its lack of care and denial of medical evidence. How can we cheer our heroes when they’re on the field, yet deny their conditions when they’re finally finished breaking their ribs and fibulas for our entertainment? This is the real-life story of once proud gladiators dying in disgrace, vibrant families left in ruins.
The beauty and power of a film like Concussion is that it pulls back the covers of just how heartless, greedy and unethical the ruling class elite can be. While the primary concern of NFL team owners is the value of their entertainment product, team doctors are paid serious sums of money to completely ignore (or rather, minimize) player conditions: headaches, torn ligaments, concussions, sprained ankles. And apparently, the NFL now owns the study of neuroscience. Instead of receiving proper unbiased assessments, current and former players are often misdiagnosed and denied effective treatment. Even more unnerving, some of these “in-house specialists” aren’t even real doctors.
As a professional organization, the National Football League has known about CTE for years, yet refuses to acknowledge the long-term impact of repeated high speed collisions on NFL players’ mental and psychological health. Instead, coaches, management and team doctors resort to Vicodin, Percocets and Zoloft in order to “keep the show going.”
To the men on the field, professional football is the ultimate team sport, a game of courage, skill and great sacrifice. To the NFL and its corporate executives, professional football is merely a business of entertainment fueled by the American Dream, young Black “bucks” and expendable labor. In that regard, Concussion effectively illustrates the importance of truth and honor over exploitation, capitalism and big business entertainment. ■
NC-based activist, Lamont Lilly is a contributing editor with the Triangle Free Press and organizer with Workers World Party. He has recently served as field staff in Baltimore, Ferguson, Oakland, Boston and Philadelphia. In February 2015, he traveled to both Syria and Lebanon with Ramsey Clark and Cynthia McKinney. Follow him on Twitter @LamontLilly.