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Sunday, January 3, 2016

Concussion


CONCUSSION

 

Although a trustworthy friend recommends the film "Concussion" and the  Internet trailers featuring  Will Smith  are inviting, I have yet to see the movie.  Based on Jeanne Marie Laskas's  September 2009 GQ article "Game Brain,"( http://www.gq.com/story/nfl-players-brain-dementia-study-memo ) the film will probably have the impact of Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," which provoked me to utter angry words about a nation of sheep.  I imagine "Concussion" is sufficiently right-wing for no film critic to call it an "egregious cinematic stinker," and certainly Dr. Bennet Omalu, upon whose life and forensic work the film is focused, stood on his ground and produced testimony regarding dementia pugilistica that even extreme,  conservative critics might allow their hearts to admit has merit.  What their mouths will say about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy is a different can of worms.  For devout fans of football and other American gladiatorial games, the film may provoke thirty seconds of anxiety before they return to normal.

I have read Laskas's Concussion (New York: Random House, 2015) and have cultivated more than a grain of admiration for Dr. Omalu as a Nigerian American who poured determination and  Igbo spirituality through the alembic of Catholicism to become, despite his agon with depression, a fine role model for African and African American males.  I shall not hesitate to say that some immigrants are better models of the excellence to which we should aspire than are some native sons.  Laskas has the prescience to grasp that Dr. Omalu's life history is as compelling as what he discovered about tau tangle in the brain of Mike "Iron Mike" Webster and published as the scientific paper  "Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in a National Football League Player" in the July 2005 issue of the prestigious journal Neurosurgery.  Laskas is an accomplished, clever writer.  Her prose is conversational and witty.  There is a delicious edginess in her weaving of an extended parable into the book about the relationship between Dr. Omalu and Dr. Cyril Wecht, whose mastery of hubris makes Donald Trump look like an inept neophyte.  Even more tasty is her cultivated muckraking of the National Football League, which continues to value billion dollar profits more than the lives of professional football players.  After all, American players are, like Roman gladiators, expendable and  replaceable.  The bottom line is to keep fans happy and money rolling in.  Ethics and morality count as much in the game as washed-up sex workers, or to use language attributed to Dr. Wecht "malicious editorial pimps and reporter prostitutes."

Dr. Omalu's rediscovery and exposure of what had been known in the Western world for several centuries about the effects of brain trauma has cost the NFL a pretty penny, thanks to an April 2015 uncapped settlement that will cost the League about one billion dollars over the next sixty-five years (Laskas 260).  That's chump change.  The NLF knows it; the retired or discarded, brain-injured players know it; the fans know it.  But the American sports industry is an improved version of Shakespeare's Shylock.  It will plead in no court for a mere pound of flesh.  It will contract athletes to man up and be patriotic about the consequences of concussions.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.            January 3, 2016

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