Will Smith’s Concussion Shows Brain Injury Risks in Football

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Will Smith’s movie “Concussion” came to theaters on Christmas Day. The movie showed football parents across the country how the sport can cause brain injury. It questioned how the NFL has responded to claims that repetitive hits have caused brain injury in thousands of former football players.

“Concussion” hit movie theaters on Christmas Day, making $11 million in two days. The film is based on forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu, played by Will Smith, who discovered Chronic Traumatic Encephalopath (CTE) among former NFL players. The NFL attempted to block Omalu’s report from going public, prompting Smith and director Peter Landesman to take up the cause.

The Effects of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy

Dr. Omalu discovered repeated sub-concussion blows to the head – the kind that professional football players suffer as part of their job – can cause substantial brain injury later in life. CTE causes abnormal protein deposits in an athlete’s brain. Over time, it can increase the risk of degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, and dementia.

The NFL’s Response

The National Football League has not supported Omalu and other scientists’ efforts to make the sport safer. Just days before Concussion hit theaters, the NFL cut funding to a critical brain injury study at Baltimore University. Instead of supporting its employees’ health, the NFL has made small rule changes that it claims will reduce head-to-head impacts in the future. Reuters reports:

Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president of health and safety policy, . . . said recent rules changes, such as penalizing helmet-to-helmet hits, have helped reduce the number of concussions in regular season games by 34 percent over the past three years.

“While that number does not represent success in our minds, it certainly is a trend in the right direction,” Miller said.

The NFL hopes that these rules changes will put pressure on college, high school, and pee wee leagues to make similar changes.

How Parents Can Help

It will be up to football parents to make real changes in the safety of their children. Former professional Redskins player Rick Williams told Reuters:

“When you’re young, moms are taking you to Pee Wee and Pop Warner (youth leagues). . . . “Mothers can be such a big influence. If they combine their forces, they have the power to bring about change. They will protect their babies. But with dads, it’s always a macho issue.”

Actor Will Smith agrees:

“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,” Smith said.

Parents need to be informed about the risk the sport poses to their children. Concussion takes the first step. Now football parents need to come together to push for change in their neighborhood leagues.

David Christensen is a brain injury expert at Christensen Law in Southfield, Michigan. He represents brain injury patients following car accidents. If you or someone you know has suffered a traumatic brain injury, contact Christensen Law today for a free