Pittsburgh Steelers star wide receiver Antonio Brown, who tied for the NFL lead in receptions (136) and ranked second in receiving yards (1,834) this season, took a local high school football team to an early screening of Will Smith’s new movie “Concussion” before its release on Christmas Day.
According to WPXI.com in Pittsburgh, Brown brought the Clairton High School team to a screening on Dec. 22, three days before its widespread release. In the film, Smith plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, the man credited for the discovery of a long-term degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The film chronicles Omalu’s discovery of the disease and the NFL’s persistent attempts to downplay his findings, which PBS has chronicled in great detail.
In speaking with the news station, Brown explained the rationale behind his kind gesture.
“These high school kids, they’ve got to be aware of their future to raise some awareness and some positivity,” he said. "[And] to come out and to spend some time in the community is always a pleasure.”
A receiver on the team, Aaron Mathews, told the news station he wouldn’t be hitting his head as much after seeing the film. Wayne Wade, the team’s head coach, described having “mixed emotions” while watching it, citing his own playing days as a youth.
The Clairton High School team isn’t the only group of youths who benefited from seeing the film. In speaking with NPR, two brothers—Donovan Lee, a sophomore running back at the University of Colorado, and his younger brother, Dymond Lee, a high school quarterback who has committed to continue his playing career at the University of California-Los Angeles next year—said the film was an eye-opener. However, both Lee brothers expressed confidence that recent changes to the game have made it safer.
“We’re the makers of our destinies, so we have to take the right steps to prevent injuring ourselves,” said Dymond. “And we’ve done a lot more in the training room with our trainers and stuff, just going over concussion protocol. Whenever we get hit and we look a little dazed, the trainer will come over and make sure we take the right steps in order to get back in the game or to pull us out if we need to.”
Having seen the film on Christmas Day, I can say this confidently: Everyone who plays football at any level—high school, college, or professional—could benefit from seeing it. Though it focuses primarily on Omalu’s behind-the-scenes battles with the NFL, it does include a few scenes of high school players participating in “Oklahoma"-style drills, where two players line up opposite one another and ram into each other headfirst at full speed. Omalu (Smith), watching those drills, can only wince as he considers the potential long-term consequences to those players’ brains.
The film ends on that note—even after the NFL Players’ Association begins to take him seriously, he drives by a high school football practice and sees head-to-head contact unfolding—begging the question of how much more the game needs to change to ensure more players of all ages don’t suffer from the devastating effects of CTE. The film does not, however, call for an end to football, nor does it discourage parents from allowing their children to play the game. It simply informs those involved of the risks, which wasn’t always the case in years prior, as former NFLPA President Dominique Foxworth revealed at USA Today.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.