Will Smith’s ‘Concussion’ Inspires NFL Response, Screenplay May Have Been Edited
The first trailer for Sony’s Concussion dropped earlier this week, showing off the new Will Smith football drama centering on the doctor who challenged the NFL over the longterm effects of repeated head injuries. Although the film doesn’t hit theaters until Christmas, it’s already inspiring a bit of real-life drama as reports suggest that Sony may have had the script changed to avoid angering the NFL, while the league itself has begun to develop its own game plan.
Concussion follows Dr. Bennet Omalu, a neuropathologist who discovers that repeated head injuries or concussions can lead to a progressive degenerative disease known as CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy. The NFL challenged Omalu’s findings and denied the link between concussions — often suffered by football players — and CTE, and has continued to refuse to acknowledge this very real problem.
The New York Times uncovered some emails from last year’s Sony hack detailing the studio’s plan to avoid their own drama with the NFL, “by altering the script and marketing the film more as a whistle-blower story, rather than a condemnation of football or the league.” The emails do seem to indicate that the script was changed in some way to avoid potential blowback:
Another email on Aug. 1, 2014, said some “unflattering moments for the NFL” were deleted or changed, while in another note on July 30, 2014, a top Sony lawyer is said to have taken “most of the bite” out of the film “for legal reasons with the NFL and that it was not a balance issue.” Other emails in September 2014 discuss an aborted effort to reach out to the NFL.
On the surface, this may seem like Sony simply trying to avoid offending one of America’s biggest corporate entities, but in truth the concept is a bit troubling. The studio has allegedly altered a fact-based screenplay to avoid angering a corporation who may not like being portrayed in a negative light — no one should be so untouchable.
But director Peter Landesman defends the screenplay and denies changing it to appease the NFL — he asserts that the changes were made to remove any creative dialogue that didn’t adhere to the facts:
We don’t want to give the NFL a toehold to say, ‘They are making it up,’ and damage the credibility of the movie. here were things that might have been creatively fun to have actors say that might not have been accurate in the heads of the NFL or doctors. We might have gotten away with it legally, but it might have damaged our integrity as filmmakers. We didn’t have a need to make up anything because it was powerful and revelatory on its own. There was never an instance where we compromised the storytelling to protect ourselves from the NFL.
That still sounds like they were making changes to please the NFL.
For its own part, the NFL is already coming up with a plan to respond to Concussion when it hits theaters. THR reports that the league will “host a series of discussions, conferences and scientific strategy meetings about player safety” in the months leading up to the film’s December 25 release. The NFL is reportedly happy to allow Concussion to “spark dialogue on the subject,” which they apparently do take seriously — contrary to Omalu’s own experiences as portrayed in the film.