Student Well-Being

‘Concussion’ Director Weighs In on Whether Youths Should Play Football

By Bryan Toporek — September 02, 2015 2 min read
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On Monday, the first trailer for the upcoming movie Concussion made its debut. The film, which stars Will Smith and is set to hit theaters on Christmas Day, focuses on Dr. Bennet Omalu, the first doctor to discover chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

As the trailer indicates, Omalu experienced a great deal of resistance from the National Football League when he attempted to inform them of his findings.

The film’s writer and director, Peter Landesman, spoke with The MMQB’s Peter King
following the debut of the trailer. Of particular interest to this blog’s readers, King asked Landesman whether he thinks people should “love football” and if football should exist at all. He took a measured stance:

I have no position on whether or not people should play football or whether they should have their kids play football. To me, this is a story about making adult choices. Once you have the information—and the information has been obscured for a longtime, it’s been buried and covered up by people who don’t want to damage the sport—the information is now out there, and I hope this movie brings together the information in a way that the general public can metabolize and now make their own decisions. So now that you know that concussions can kill you and playing the sport can kill you, it’s on every parent and it’s on every college player, it’s on every high school player and professional player on whether you are going to let your child play. It’s the same with smoking, drinking, and doing drugs. I like to think in some ways that life is an occupational hazard. Something we do in our life is going to kill us; maybe now, maybe 50 years from now. You have to choose what those things are. We love to drink and be merry and be happy, we know it’s not good for us, but we do it. It’s about making adult choices.

As this PBS Frontline timeline relays, the NFL did attempt to refute any claims linking repetitive head impacts to long-term brain damage for most of the 2000s. The league’s mild traumatic brain injury committee, created in 1994, specifically targeted Omalu in its denials, even going so far as to call for a retraction of one of his published papers. It wasn’t until late 2009 that an NFL spokesman acknowledged concussions could have long-term effects. Now, the league is helping support USA Football’s “Heads Up Football” program, which aims to teach safer tackling techniques to youths.

Every state, meanwhile, now has some form of youth-concussion legislation on the books, many of which contain an educational component. Student-athletes and parents in most states must sign a form acknowledging the risks of concussions—and detailing the symptoms of such injuries—before they’re allowed to participate, while a number of states also require coaches to go through a concussion-education module every one or two years.

Landesman’s point about education, then, holds especially true. While this field of science remains in its nascent stage, it’s miles ahead of where it was 10 or 15 years ago. Whereas Omalu met a great deal of resistance when he initially presenting his findings about CTE, it’s now largely acknowledged that repetitive head impacts, particularly in youths, aren’t exactly ideal. Accordingly, some states and state high school athletic associations have gone so far as to implement limits on the number of full-contact practices allowed per week.

Given the attention /Concussion /is sure to receive in the weeks leading up to its release (and afterward, too), awareness about the risks of concussions may reach a new all-time high this winter. For youth-sports-safety advocates, that’s a huge win.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.