Ever since the movie Concussion was announced it was a forgone conclusion that the NFL was not going to be happy. The movie deals directly with the long-term consequences of repetitive head trauma, which is a big part of what happens in National Football League every Sunday. However, this has now gone beyond a simple protest or boycott. In the face of some evidence that Sony made cuts to the film in order to placate the NFL, the studio has had to go on the defensive and claims nothing like that has happened.
As with everything else that’s happened with Sony in the last nine months, it all comes back to that massive e-mail hack. According to a story in the Los Angeles Times, a number of those e-mails make references to Sony trying to avoid "kicking the hornet’s nest," referring to the NFL. However, Sony has come out and defended the film, saying that the final cut was not softened in any way in order to keep the NFL (or their lawyers) happy. Sony even quoted sportscaster Bob Costas in their defense, who said:
I have seen the movie. As one who has followed, and commented on, this issue, it doesn't appear to me many punches were pulled.
Costas’ sentiment falls much more in line with the information that we have received. When our own Eric Eisenberg spoke with writer/director Peter Landesman, the filmmaker made it clear that the movie does take specific aim at the NFL, but not at football as a whole. The first trailer was just released and it certainly appears to paint the NFL as the "bad guys" of the piece, trying to protect the reputation of the organization at the expense of the truth and its players.
Having said all that, the Sony e-mails are more than a little concerning. It’s difficult to come up with a context for "we’ll develop messaging with the help of N.F.L. consultant" that doesn’t sound like they’re trying to promote the film in a way that will make the NFL happy. Even if they’re not modifying the film to please the NFL, it sounds like they are potentially trying to take some of the heat that the film may generate off of the organization.
Concussion stars Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu, the doctor who identified the first case of Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in deceased NFL player Mike Webster’s brain tissue. The film deals with Omalu’s struggle to get the NFL and the public to give his research attention.
Concussion comes out on Christmas Day and it may not be until then that we really know how the film deals with this topic.