Concussions on the Big Screen

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Yesterday, The New York Times published a front-page report suggesting that the Sony Pictures film Concussion cut scenes that show the NFL in an unflattering light. The evidence of tampering by the studio is compelling. Here’s one email written by Sony Picture’s president of domestic marketing last year:

Will [Smith] is not anti football (nor is the movie) and isn’t planning to be a spokesman for what football should be or shouldn’t be but rather is an actor taking on an exciting challenge. We’ll develop messaging with the help of N.F.L. consultant to ensure that we are telling a dramatic story and not kicking the hornet’s nest.

Another email written by a lawyer for Sony said that “most of the bite” had been removed from the film. (The film’s trailer, seen above, doesn’t seem entirely toothless.)

Concussion tells the story of Bennet Omalu, the doctor who is credited with identifying the degenerative disease—chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)—brought on by repeated blows to the head and most commonly associated with pro football.

The NFL, despite never having been more lucrative or popular than it is right now, remains vulnerable, as the public perception of the sport bends under the weight of its scandals over concussions and domestic abuse.

This imbalance plays out in other ways. Consider a poll of NFL players earlier this year in which 85 percent of respondents said they would play in the Super Bowl with a concussion, even as the list of former players who suffer from concussion-related depression or even commit suicide continues to grow.

Here’s where Concussion’s tagline comes in handy: “Nothing hits harder than the truth.”