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Sony Changed 'Concussion' Movie to Avoid NFL Backlash

By: Allan M. Siegel

Shocking news regarding the upcoming Sony Pictures Entertainment movie “Concussion,” surfaced this week when the New York Times reported on studio emails that showed Sony tailored the film so as to avoid backlash from the NFL. The film, which stars Will Smith as one of the first scientists to discover and later disclose the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in NFL athletes, focuses on a sore spot for the NFL - traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and the long-term, debilitating impact they can have on former players.

Although the film’s subject matter is based on true events, it appears as though Sony and the NFL worked together to ensure the film did not negatively portray the league or create animosity or protests against the NFL.

Here are some details about what is known so far:

  • The film, to be released in December, is a dramatic depiction of American football players who suffer from brain injuries and the life-altering debilitating problems that can be caused by repeated concussions, including dementia and death. It portrays Dr. Bennet Omalu, played by Smith, whose work diagnosing CTE and brain injuries in NFL athletes led to an extensive crisis for the league.
  • Emails obtained by hackers show Sony executives, director Peter Landesman, and Smith’s representatives in talks about how to avoid antagonizing the NFL or creating hostility against the league. These conversations focused on altering the script and the message of the film, as well as ways to market the movie so that it did not appear to condemn the NFL or the sport of football.
  • Emails from Sony’s president of domestic marketing also revealed that messaging for the film would be developed with the assistance of an NFL consultant in order to present the film as a dramatic story and not spark controversy. “Unflattering moments for the NFL,” were also said to have been deleted or changed and Sony lawyers reportedly took “much of the bite” out of the film.
  • Sony has yet to comment on the production of the movie, but director Peter Landesman stated that Sony did not cater to the NFL and that the email conversations were about depicting the story and characters accurately so that the NFL wouldn’t attack Sony for taking liberties.

In recent years, the NFL has faced considerable backlash for the long-term disabilities many players have suffered as a result of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) sustained during their careers. Last year, the league admitted that 1 in 3 players may develop long-term cognitive problems as a result of their careers.

Ultimately, “Concussion” is a movie that is both controversial and crucially important to the larger conversation about traumatic brain injuries in football. If Sony and the NFL worked together to temper and manipulate the discussion, then the film - while powerful and thought provoking - may fall short in painting the whole picture. The emails and collusion further suggest that the public may still not know the full truth about what the NFL knew about the link between football and CTE, and when they knew it.

At Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C., our team has been named “Preferred Attorneys” by the Brain Injury Association of Metropolitan Washington, DC and has represented many brain injury victims over the years, including athletes of all levels. We have seen first-hand just how tremendous an impact brain injuries can have on victims and their loved ones, and we believe this message, in its entirely, needs to be conveyed not only to help people understand the issue, but to also help them take action and prompt change.