On Christmas Day, Concussion will be released nationwide in movie theaters. The movie details the story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, and his work discovering and publicizing the issue of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in football players. The movie is based on a GQ article, "Game Brain," but also includes information discussed in the PBS documentary League of Denial.
On Thursday, ESPN's Adam Schefter made an appearance on Mike & Mike to discuss a variety of topics. Prior to his appearance, Mike & Mike talked with former Pittsburgh Steelers neurosurgeon, Dr. Julian Bailes. Alec Baldwin portrayed him in Concussion, and Bailes has been making the media rounds to discuss the movie and the issue of concussions. When Schefter came on after Bailes, Mike & Mike asked him about the movie, and what he's hearing. He had this to say at the 29:16 mark:
I think the league would like it to go away. I think the league would like to not acknowledge it, but it's here, it's out there. I think it's interesting because, somebody raised this point last week, I was talking to. The truth of the matter is, PBS did a special on this, talking to a doctor who had studied brains and the concussions, one of the doctor's at the forefront of this. And so we're going to go see a movie, Hollywood, lights, camera, action, when everything that we needed to see, or know, or realize about these concussions, was portrayed in real life, without the glitz and the glamour on that PBS special.
So if you want to learn about this, watch that special. Watch that. We don't need to see Will Smith, and other people acting this out. It's happening every day in front of our eyes. We know it's a real issue, it's a serious issue, and that special, to me, without having seen the movie, maybe the movie's going to win all sorts of Academy Awards, I have no idea, is more relevant to the topic of conversations we've been having for months and years.
Schefter is spot on that the PBS documentary, League of Denial, does a great job of explaining the real life story in great detail. The documentary (and book it is based upon) is well worth your time if you want to learn more about the issues of CTE and the NFL.
The problem with Schefter's comments is that he belittles Concussion as nothing more than a Hollywood dramatization. The transcript above does not convey his snarky tone when he says "Will Smith" and "Hollywood." There is a very clear tone of disdain about the movie.
As you can see in the bolded comments above, he also admits to not having seen the movie yet. If he had taken the time to see the movie, he would realize the value of this movie for educating the public even further than the PBS special. I had a chance to view a screening of the movie in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 3. I walked out of the screening realizing this could be an incredibly important opportunity for the public to get a necessary basic grasp on the issue of brain trauma and professional football.
The movie does an excellent job explaining brain trauma in a simple but effective manner. In one scene, Dr. Omalu is explaining the issue of brain trauma to another neurosurgeon. He shows a picture of a woodpecker, and explains how they violently use their head throughout their life, without suffering brain damage. The reason is that the woodpecker's tongue wraps from the back of its mouth, around the skull, and through the nostril. This creates a shock-absorber for the brain that humans do not have. The human brain sits without that kind of protection for hits to the head, and thus can suffer significant damage.
It is moments like these in Concussion that will likely flip the switch for a lot of viewers. It will be that "ahhhhh" moment that League of Denial simply does not provide. It does not provide the nitty gritty detail of League of Denial, but it presents the subject matter in a serious, but entertaining fashion.
And that's what is necessary. PBS does not get the same kind of viewer buzz that a Will Smith movie does, or really any major Hollywood motion picture. PBS does fantastic work, and the Frontline series is a great example of that. Most televisions across America have access to some version of PBS, but unfortunately people are simply not watching it at the rate they watch Will Smith movies. I am working on getting specific League of Denial ratings from PBS. In the meantime, according to this press release, PBS finished the 2013-14 season (the season in which League of Denial aired) with an average rating of 1.50. That equals 2.2 million viewers.
Let's compare that to a Will Smith movie. In Smith's 19 movies in a leading role, only one did less than $50 million in U.S. ticket sales. The average movie ticket price in 2014 was $8.17, which would equate out to over 6 million tickets sold for a $50 million movie. There is no guarantee Concussion will surpass $50 million, and there will be repeat viewers, but that is still nearly triple the average PBS viewing audience when League of Denial first aired.
And in just the last day, Will Smith has been nominated for a Golden Globe for his work as Dr. Bennet Omalu. There is Oscar buzz about his role, and that is free publicity PBS rarely gets. Adam Schefter talks that off like it is not a big deal, but it is a huge deal for further pushing the subject of brain trauma in sports to the broader public. The NFL is concerned about this movie precisely because they know a mainstream Hollywood movie is going to further push this subject into the public consciousness. It is essential viewing for anybody who wants to get even a basic understanding of the issue of brain trauma in professional sports.