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Posted on February 6, 2016 by Christine Crosby in Concussion, CTE, Dave Duerson, Dr. Omalu, Will Smith

Grandsons Playing Football? What You Need To Know

Grandparents are all about safety for their grandkids, right? But, we may have had blind eyes when it came to football. It may be time to open those eyes to the real dangers to our grandsons and all young people who are playing this game.

There is now huge evidence of the heretofore unspoken dangers of playing this game. In case this is all new to you, the movie Concussion will wake you up to the serious dangers of CTE associated with America’s favorite past time. Hardly mandatory pre-Super Bowl viewing for football junkies. But wait. Maybe it should be.

What is CTE?  Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a form of tauopathy, is a progressive degenerative disease found in people who have suffered repetitive brain trauma, including sub-concussive hits to the head that do not cause immediate symptoms. The disease was previously called dementia pugilistica (DP), i.e. “punch-drunk”, as it was initially found in those with a history of boxing. CTE has been most commonly found in professional athletes participating in American football, association football, ice hockey, professional wrestling,stunt performing, bull riding, bicycle motocross, rodeo, and other contact sports who have experienced repetitive brain trauma. Its presence in domestic violence victims is also being investigated.

Individuals with CTE may show symptoms of dementia, such as memory loss, aggression, confusion and depression, which may appear years or many decades after the trauma. 

In September 2015, researchers with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University announced that they had identified CTE in 87 of 91 (96 percent) deceased NFL players that they had examined and in 79 percent of all football players.[2]

According to the review by DRCsports.com, Concussion delivers a hard hit to pro-football. Concussion was released Christmas Day — just a few weeks before the start of the NFL playoffs — and is already raising eyebrows for continuing the national conversation on player safety, specifically the direct correlation between head trauma and football.

Dr. Bennet Omalu

Will Smith plays real-life Nigerian-born Dr. Bennet Omalu, a brilliant and likeable forensic neuropathologist in Pittsburgh who wages war against the NFL when he discovers the terrifying brain disorder, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) while performing an autopsy on Steelers Hall of Fame center Mike Webster.

Mike Webster
Mike Webster

Webster was regarded as a hero in the Steel City even after his playing days, but the first part of the film shows him quickly losing his mind before his sad and lonely death at age 50 in 2002. Webster’s autopsy is among the most significant moments in the movie, as Omalu discovers a much bigger problem.

Smith does a fantastic job playing a doctor who is clearly overwhelmed by the gravity of his findings, yet is pushed by the desire to do the right thing. In contrast, the NFL is portrayed as an unscrupulous mega corporation that, as Omalu’s boss states in the film, “The NFL owns a day of the week, the same day the Church used to own.”


concussionThe 2009 GQ article, Brain Games asserted that the NFL actively undermined his findings to protect its sanctity (ahem, bottom line). Though the movie’s narrative walks a tightrope between a clinical football story and a saccharine Omalu biopic, Will Smith’s familiar charm helps makes a complicated and uncomfortable topic accessible, with head trauma being explained on the order of a ninth-grade biology book.

I have seen the movie twice—a few months ago in New York at an intimate screening with director Peter Landesman, and more recently in Atlanta, at a showing for 70 retired NFL players. Concussion is intrinsically uncomfortable because it names names while assigning pathos to real-life figures, including commissioner Roger Goodell who (spoiler alert) is played by an unconvincing Luke Wilson (did your local CVS run out of red hair dye, Luke?). Characters on the corporate level are purposely one-dimensional, the director’s way of establishing the NFL’s hear-no-evil, see-no-evil culture at the expense of human complexity and frailties.

‘PAID TO GIVE CONCUSSIONS’: MMQB screened the movie with 70 retired players for which it was a panic-inducing horror flick.

Dave Duerson

Because he served on the board that ruled on ex-players’ disability claims, former Bears safety Dave Duerson is used as a vehicle to represent all of the NFL’s suits-and-ties with a villainous bent. The cinematic twist: He killed himself in 2011 and was later found to have suffered from CTE.

Read full review

According to review in Rolling Stone, it’s a gripping story, most devastating when we see rugged players such as Justin Strzelczyk (Matthew Willig) and Dave Duerson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) suffer breakdowns for reasons that don’t show up on brain scans.  Director Peter Landesman (Parkland), who also wrote the script, undercuts it with plodding pacing, endless shots of talking heads, a sermonizing tone, and wan interludes with Dr. Omalu and his wife, Parma.  The film goes slack when its screws most need to tighten. Luckily, Smith — flawless in accent and commitment to Omalu’s  worthy cause — grips you from first to last. Hardly mandatory pre-Super Bowl viewing for football junkies. But wait. Maybe it should be.  Read more:


Christine Crosby

About the author

Christine is the co-founder and editorial director for GRAND Magazine. She is the grandmother of five and great-grandmom (aka Grandmere) to one. She makes her home in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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