Image: Cast member Will Smith poses during the premiere of the film “Concussion” during AFI Fest 2015 in Hollywood, California, November 10, 2015. REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian
By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Actor Will Smith, a self-described “football dad,” felt conflicted about starring in the new film “Concussion” as a doctor who discovered brain trauma was a factor in the deaths of some former National Football League (NFL) players.
Smith plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, the pathologist who, more than 10 years ago, first linked brain damage to the deaths of men who made careers playing the most popular U.S. sport. The actor said on Tuesday that before meeting Omalu, he had not known the full dangers of the head injuries football player can suffer.
“When I sat down to meet with Bennet, I was like, ‘please say something to make me not take this movie, please,’ and then I was just so compelled by the story and the fact that I didn’t know,” Smith told the audience at the film’s premiere in Los Angeles.
“I had watched my son play football for four years, and I didn’t know. And just as a parent, I felt like I had to be a part of this.”
“Concussion,” in U.S. theatres on Dec. 25, is based on Omalu’s discovery and raising awareness of the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy that can go undetected.
The film links deaths of several football players to the condition, particularly that of Pittsburgh Steelers centre Mike Webster.
“Concussion” is a hot-button issue for the NFL, which draws millions of viewers each week to its televised games. In April, the NFL settled a lawsuit brought by about 5,000 former players who accused the league of covering up the dangers of concussions.
Omalu said he believed “Hollywood would be the most powerful and most important medium to portray the truth.”
In September, Sony Pictures Entertainment denied a New York Times report that the studio had altered the movie’s script to avoid antagonizing the NFL.
Writer-director Peter Landesman said the movie was not intended to be “confrontational or judgmental.”
“Everyone has a point of view and once you have the information for yourself, you’re in the position to make a decision,” Landesman said.
The NFL has declined to comment directly on the movie.
“We all know more about this issue than we did 10 or 20 years ago. As we continue to learn more, we apply those learnings to make our game and players safer,” it said in a statement when the first movie trailers were released.
(Additional reporting By Reuters Television in Los Angeles, Editing by Jill Serjeant and David Gregorio)
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