When the movie Concussion hits theaters later this year, the biopic of a doctor crusading against the NFL to expose the effects of repetitive brain injuries is sure to cause a stir. The story of Bennet Omalu (played by Will Smith) and his discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in a former player more than a decade ago is not the type of football chatter the league usually goes for on Christmas Day. According to internal emails at Sony however, it could have been much worse for the NFL.
The film, made by Sony Pictures Entertainment, appears to have pulled several of its punches and softened the storyline in order to avoid a full-scale confrontation with the NFL. “In dozens of studio emails unearthed by hackers, Sony executives; the director, Peter Landesman; and representatives of Mr. Smith discussed how to avoid antagonizing the N.F.L. by altering the script and marketing the film more as a whistle-blower story, rather than a condemnation of football or the league,” the New York Times reports. “[An] email on Aug. 1, 2014, said some ‘unflattering moments for the N.F.L.’ 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 N.F.L. and that it was not a balance issue.’”
Writer and director of the film Peter Landesman pushed back against critics saying the studio bowed to pressure and Sony execs told the Hollywood Reporter the back-and-forth between its creative and legal arms was standard practice, particularly for a movie rooted in reality.
One such example of a cut is this scene, unearthed by the Hollywood Reporter, involving NFL commissioner Roger Goodell which it says depicts the comissioner as “being part of a wide NFL scheme to cover up the connection between professional football and brain damage.” Here’s the scene:
THR has obtained a draft of the Concussion script dated May 30, 2014, and titled, “Untitled Concussion.” In it, the NFL commissioner, described in the screenplay as “47 and sandy-haired,” takes a midnight call at his mansion in Greenwich, Conn. On the line is Dr. Joe Maroon, team neurosurgeon for the Pittsburgh Steelers (played in the film by Arliss Howard) and Dr. Elliot Pellman (played by Paul Reiser), the former NFL brain-injury research committee chairman and a highly controversial figure in the league’s ongoing concussion crisis.
“We have a serious problem,” Maroon tells Goodell.
“Dave Duerson killed himself today,” Pellman continues, referencing the former NFL safety who committed suicide in 2011 and left his brain to the Boston University School of Medicine for CTE research that would later prove crucial.
“He didn’t just kill himself. He shot himself in the chest, Roger. In the heart,” Maroon interjects. “He left a note. He wanted his brain donated. To be looked at. For CTE.”
Goodell responds: “Good God. Was he symptomatic?”
“I thought he was just an asshole,” Maroon replies, a suggestion that Duerson may have suffered from aggression and impulse-control problems, two side effects of CTE.
“For the brain’s last act to not just die, but preserve itself in the act of killing, humans don’t do that. We can’t explain it,” Maroon continues.
“This is going to unravel,” he says, and the scene ends.
”As will become immediately clear to anyone actually seeing the movie, nothing with regard to this important story has been ‘softened’ to placate anyone,” Sony said in a statement Wednesday.