Hollywood and Hard Knocks: The NFL’s Christmas Predicament

Written By: Alex Kartman | @ajkartman
Director of Digital Sports Production & Instructor of TCOM
Ball State Sports Link

It’s coming soon. The story the NFL doesn’t want you to know. As fans, do we really want to visit the medical atrocities our nation’s game inflict on our beloved gladiators?

PBS produced the documentary League of Denial just two short years ago, and within that time, the NFL has faced a well-publicized lawsuit from former players. The documentary sheds light on the league’s knowledge and inaction to protect former and current players.

I remember the days when highlight reels of the year’s greatest hits made even my own bones ache. Now concussion policies resemble sideline interrogation scenes every time the camera isolates a victim. Still, concussion exams only focus on high impact tackles, and not the every play concussive traumas occurring in the trenches between linemen.

Yet its about business, and if any blight causes people to question the ethics of the business, there will be money lost. Would you watch the sport knowing no matter what safety equipment is designed, the every man playing will likely be plagued by Dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinsons, and suicide? ESPN decided it didn’t want to tread those waters, pulling its research and support from the documentary several years ago.

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The NFL’s looming shadow now is beginning to shine its own light onto the world, as the concussion lawsuit was settled between players and the league. Players who retired before July 2014 can seek up to $5 million in damages for injuries and serious medical conditions brought about by repeated head trauma.

It only took federal courts, and more lawyers than I care to imagine, to decide that banging heads together as violently and often as bighorn sheep could cause life altering psychological and physical conditions.

With Will Smith bringing his star power to the new film “Concussion,” a wide audience will see the movie. The league’s hidden medical records will be brought into the spotlight. Networks not aligned with the NFL (only CNN) will begin deeper investigations into the policies and procedures the league takes to protect the integrity of player’s health rather than image.

My excitement toward the NFL season isn’t waivering, but after seeing this movie during the Christmas season, maybe America’s football fanaticism will be tempered with pragmatism.

All this would have been argument enough to question fandom, yet on Thursday, news came out Sony Pictures (the distributor of the film) intentionally softened the blows the film would take on the NFL. These allegations come out of the Sony email hack that occurred last year. In emails from Dwight Caines, the president of domestic marketing at Sony Pictures, he sites how the marketing of the film has changed:

Will [Smith] is not anti football (nor is the movie) and isn’t planning to be a spokesman for what football should be or shouldn’t be but rather is an actor taking on an exciting challenge. We’ll develop messaging with the help of NFK consultant to ensure that we are telling a dramatic story and not kicking the hornet’s nest.

The New York Times uncovered these emails and continued to report:

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.

It seems this movie would have been too good to be true. In further reading, it’s found the focus of the story is no longer on the facts of medical findings and their implications. Instead the film will focus on the against-all-odds fight Will Smith’s character undergoes to publicize his findings. I know I still will line up to see it and hope the story uncovers inconvenient truths about America’s Game, but now it seems those only will be half truths.

Author: Alex Kartman

I am the Director of Digital Sports Production and Ball State Sports Link. I produce, direct, and film sports ranging from feature stories to live broadcasts. I freelance as a technical director for the Indiana Pacers, ESPN, Fox Sports and other regional TV. I also love film and attempted to be a critic in a past life.

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