Aftermath of the Film "Concussion": Reflections on a Disappointing and Dangerous Marriage

This blog is about the film "Concussion." It is also about a marriage that I see between two powerful American institutions, the NFL and the Academy of Motional Picture Arts and Sciences. Theirs has shown itself to be a union that, for the public good, is desperately in need of ASAP counseling.

The dangerous illnesses, resulting in misery and deaths of their players that the NFL has covered up through the years is no longer secret. Yet, many still have no idea of their lethal cover-ups. The racism expressed by the Academy award selections is obvious. (The malice of each is understandably overlooked: People work hard. People have problems. People want to relax, unwind, be entertained.)

I am and will remain horrified about the omission of extraordinary African-American talent in the 2016 Oscar nominations. Focusing on the omission of male actors -- how could Idris Elba ("Beasts of No Nation"), Will Smith ("Concussion"), Michael B. Jordan ("Creed") and the many young actors in "Compton" all have been overlooked?

In this blog, I will concentrate on the inexplicable rejection of Will Smith in "Concussion." The reasons will become clear, so please read on.....But first, for perspective, some background.

In the years when I was growing up kids began a lifelong involvement with each institution, resulting in two addictions: Sons bonded with their dads by going to football games. (Yes, sometimes moms and daughters were also invited, but primarily this was a father-son deal. This said, as part of dating rituals, girls were expected to understand football and attend games, as well as be quite skilled in appropriate refreshments to serve in "club basements," when games were viewed at home.)

But moms and daughters had our yearly Academy Awards. I am not sure what the guys talked about at their games, but moms and daughters had heart to hearts about the talents, relationships, loves, and fashion choices of female actors (then called actresses) and the value of the films considered for awards.

I went to a very large public high school in North West Baltimore, Forest Park. I have met several highly intelligent people in my life, but I do not think I have ever, from that day to this, met a group of as many truly brilliant kids as those I met in junior high (Garrison) and high school. Forest Park had a football team, but because academics were so important in our school, students voted on a sort of "Homecoming Queen," but gave her a more academically acceptable name, Loyalty Queen. That was me (or I -- to avoid from-the-grave-wrath of my thoroughly skilled and totally intimidating English teacher, Virginia Shaffer). My job was to go to football games, cheer with the cheerleaders (from my seat), and sit near the bench. I have absolutely no doubt that our coach loved and cared for our devoted players (and hardworking students -- at least most of the time), supporting them in all things always. However, I also saw from close up that football is a highly dangerous sport, one that frightened me and turned me off from the game from those days to today.

Now, a confession: I only saw "Concussion" last week. I held off for two reasons: One I just told you. In addition, until this film I had never appreciated the enormous talent of Will Smith.

As most who will read this blog know, in "Concussion" Smith plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian forensic pathologist who fought against efforts by the National Football League to suppress his research on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) brain damage endured by professional football players, a condition that has led to endless suffering, family break-ups, deaths, and suicides. The NFL's exposed manipulative, underhanded tactics, as well as their lies and distortions, made the film at times almost unbearable to watch. We were shown first hand how the NFL disregards the well being of their players as they focus on their wealth. It isn't that I did not know much of this before seeing "Concussion." However, because of this film, I felt and understood it, through the lives of those who endlessly suffered, as never before.

Then, in a related story, on March 29th I saw the "New York Times" first page Sport section coverage which revealed emails from NHL officials acknowledging long term health difficulties, including depression, that were covered up in defending itself from class-action lawsuits of dozens of former players who had experienced concussions. This followed many "Times" articles that have chronicled the horrors of the concussions suffered by players that have been ignored by the NFL. To quote Philadelphia Daily News writer, Will Bunch, in a March 24 article, the "Times" "has been a put bull on story of pro football and concussions."

In this article Bunch goes on to say: "If you tell most folks that scores of ex-NFL players suffer from chronic brain injury causing memory loss, a decline in motor skills and early death, the response would be: "That's terrible - this won't affect Sunday's Eagles-Cowboys kickoff, will it?" How well I understand this attitude! For football brings families and cities together, and there is love and bonding everywhere.

That is, except in the families where the suffering implodes.

What is the answer? Oh, how I wish I knew! To borrow from the headline of Bunch's article: America's "addiction" to the NFL is both "lethal" and "unbreakable."

Yet I do know this: Many still have no idea of the harm of football (and violent sports in general). The film, "Concussion" educates about these painful, difficult to digest realities. This education extends to parents who encourage their kids to enter football's dangerous frenzy and compete for the gold ring of inclusion in the NFL. Surely, far more can and must be done to ensure safety and offer informed aftercare to the injured.

However, here is what I now also believe: The decision of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to ignore the acting genius, bravery and truths of "Concussion" was not only a racist act. It was a tragic missed opportunity to address shocking wrongs, support and educate America's young, and endorse the prevention of needless suffering and death.