Concussion: A Hard-Hitting Movie

Fr. Joel Church meets World, Society Today

“Nothing hits harder than the truth” is the tag line from the movie Concussion. Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith), a Nigerian immigrant and county coroner, investigates the tragic death of former football player Mike Webster (David Morse). He won’t stop digging until he discovers the true cause of death: football. That’s not something the National Football League wants to hear.

I was surprised by the movie’s positive take on religion. Dr. Omalu is portrayed as a faithful Catholic and also at the same time a leading scientist. Omalu’s faith is consistent with his scientific credentials, a strong work-ethic, a care for the dead, and a willingness to speak the truth. The movie illustrates that faith and science are not only compatible, but they support one another. The movie presents God and science against big-business sports that has taken Sunday from God and is now wants to dictate truth. I have not seen such a positive portrayal of faith on film in a long time.

Despite the typical “little guy takes on big institution” story line, the movie doesn’t just go after the NFL. It exposes an American sports culture that spends millions on football stadiums while people are out of work and struggling. It’s a culture that idolizes football players and sends its own kids out on the field at earlier and earlier ages. It’s a culture that’s not afraid to use the FBI to bring trumped-up charges against someone for political reasons. All the while, the very players who played the game are suffering from it, and dying. And the game goes on.

The movie raises some disturbing questions for viewers:

  • Has football really taken Sunday away from God?
  • Do we care about the sufferings of those who played the game after they are no longer useful for football?
  • Why do we place such a high value on what is essentially entertainment?
  • Are we really willing to keep sacrificing people to the games?

The movie left me thinking long after it was over. This past week it was announced that Madison’s defensive coordinator Dave Aranda was heading to LSU. Dave made $520,000 at Madison; he will make more than $1 million at LSU [ref]. This isn’t even the head coach. I started asking myself, “Why are colleges investing millions in a sport that damages players’ brains?” Concussion doesn’t give a lot of answers, but it asks a lot of tough questions. It does make one thing very clear: people with faith are leading the search for truth.