By Chris Emma—
CHICAGO (CBS) — Bears linebacker Pernell McPhee prides himself on being a violent football player, and he’s constantly preaching physical play.
So, naturally, McPhee was asked on Thursday about Concussion, the new Columbia Pictures film coming out on Christmas Day. He seemed unsure about whether he would watch.
“S—t, we get a concussion every play,” McPhee joked. “It’s football.”
These comments from McPhee were meant in a light-hearted way, but hearing this not long after seeing a preview screening of the picture didn’t sit well with me.
I wasn’t surprised by anything I saw in Concussion. Football’s a violent, brutal, physical game, a fact for anyone willing to find. Yet, we as consumers of the product tend to ignore this. Certainly, many of its players are content playing coy to the great dangers because the NFL is the livelihood of so many.
What does one risk playing football? The stories of Mike Webster, Justin Strzelczyk, Dave Duerson and more in Concussion illustrate how far too many have lost their lives.
Young football players most likely won’t know the tragic tale of Webster. Concussion introduces this horrific story from the start of the movie, at his Hall of Fame induction.
Perhaps many not old enough to know Webster’s demise and death won’t recognize his name or tie together his induction speech in the opening scenes. That will eventually open some eyes.
Every football player should see Concussion, especially those at the youth level. For all the national debate about parents not letting their kids play football, this movie powerfully demonstrates the game’s dangers. Dr. Bennet Omalu, played by Will Smith, uses a peach in a loose bowl of water to display how a brain sits. It’s not secured in the head, free to be rattled by impact. The human brain wasn’t made for football.
No helmet or precautionary measure can stabilize the brain for impact. So, how can football be deemed safe? It’s impossible.
Among the many jarring moments of the film comes when ESPN’s “Jacked Up” segment is shown in an ugly demonstration of football’s brutality. This used to be celebrated by the viewing audience, because it was seen to be amazing. This used to be considered the NFL’s greatest beauty to so many, seeing these crushing hits.
Where was our common sense?
As the pocket collapsed, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was left in the open. San Francisco 49ers safety Jaquiski Tartt swarmed in.
Rather than simply sacking Cutler, Tartt forcefully slammed Cutler to the Soldier Field sod. Cutler appeared to be shaken up. In the old days, this was called “Getting your bell rung,” which is either an oblivious or naive way of saying one’s brain rattled about the skull.
Cutler lost control of the football as he hit the ground, and his arms seemed to flail. He wasn’t right. Yet, he got up and went back to the bench. Bears team doctors and the NFL independent neurologist cleared Cutler through the concussion examinations, coach John Fox said. Cutler detailed the situation days later.
“Any time there is a hit where they think your head is involved or a possible concussion could happen, you’re going to be questioned a lot on the sideline, as I was,” Cutler explained. “Our trainers are going to be there, our doctors are going to be there, there’s an independent doctor.
“Most of the time, they’re going to want to know how you’re feeling, if there’s any memory loss. They usually ask about the last play. I usually try to give as much information as possible, so I can prove that I am OK and ready to go back out there.”
Whether Cutler was concussed is hardly the point. It’s the head trauma that’s frightening.
Concussion is hardly actually about concussions. It documents chronic traumatic encephalopathy, better known as CTE.
Dr. Omalu helped shine light on this disease when he conducted the autopsy of Webster, the legendary Steelers center who spent the last years of his life living out of a truck before his death in 2002. What may have been seen as craziness then were the symptoms of depression, amnesia, dementia and more from CTE. The impact of so many times getting the proverbial bell rung led to lasting impact of the brain the eventually ended his life.
CTE is the threat to lives of every football player. The human brain can’t withstand being pummeled by a safety blitzing through a busted pocket.
Dave Duerson seated himself in bed and reached for a revolver. The former Bears safety took his own life.
A hush went through the theater in this grim scene. Duerson was a member of the 1985 Super Bowl champions that Chicago still adores and a friend to many in the city. What was shown in this chilling scene of Concussion wasn’t new for anyone, yet it still provided a shock.
Terry Long, Junior Seau and Andre Waters are among those in the film who suffered from CTE and eventually committed suicide. There are more, too. The names, the details, the tragedies are readily available for those who choose to seek.
It shouldn’t have taken a brilliant movie to open eyes to the dangers of football, the horrors of CTE. For anyone willing to acknowledge the risks, there’s been information available for decades. Will Smith’s character used the phrase “common sense” in suggesting why playing football and CTE are linked. Concussion reveals the ways in which the NFL offered a firm denial.
Every football player should see Concussion and its gruesome details illustrated in the film. Fans of the game should see it to understand how their heroes are at risk.
I love the NFL, just like millions and millions of its fans. There’s something that’s simply beautiful about this game, but ignoring the ugliness is just wrong.
Comments like those from McPhee are startling in light of the outstanding Concussion film, but at least the epidemic is finally being acknowledged.