Emails Reveal Sony Took 'Bite' Out of 'Concussion' Film

Will Smith
Will Smith stars in new film exploring the history of long-term head trauma in the NFL. Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

A day after the release of the first trailer for Concussion, a new Will Smith drama from Sony we hoped would shed light on the long-term head trauma issue quietly plaguing the NFL, emails have been discovered that reveal the studio edited the film so as not to draw the ire of the country's most popular­—and profitable, and influential and duplicitous—sports league.

The film, which hits theaters Christmas day, tells the true story of Nigerian doctor Bennett Omalu (Smith), who discovered the degenerative disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy in former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster, who died homeless and mentally unstable in 2002, at the age of 50. (Omalu's story was first told to a national audience in a 2009 GQ piece titled "Game Brain.") The NFL has since taken measures to stop any further exposure of how a career of repeated blows to the head affects the health of its players—including calling into question scientific findings and strong-arming ESPN, which most certainly does have business ties to the league, into removing its name from a Frontline documentary about the issue, called League of Denial, that the network had initially helped produce.

Concussion could have put the issue on a platform so large that even the NFL wouldn't have been able to mitigate its impact, but now it turns out Sony has—at least to a certain extent—had the league's interest in mind throughout the film's development. Uncovered emails between parties involved in the production note how the "bite" was removed from the film, along with the excision of several "unflattering moments for the NFL."

Concern was also expressed by Smith's team, citing the A-lister's love of the game and unwillingness "to be a spokesman for what football should or shouldn't be." Ultimately, the studio made sure to focus the story on Smith's character rather than the corruption of the league. Though the film's trailer does paint the NFL as an insidious organization trying to quiet the efforts of Omalu, it's unlikely it will contain anything legitimately damaging to the league.

The irony here is hard to ignore. Concussion is about a doctor dead-set on exposing the league's willful ignorance of the long-term physical and mental repercussions the game has on its players, his reputation and career be damned. The film's ostensible aim is to trumpet Omalu's mission, and, in turn, successfully blow a whistle the league has historically succeeded in muffling (including in the case of Omalu).

As it turns out, it doesn't look like Sony had the conviction of its film's subject. Then again, it was always unlikely that Concussion would have enacted any real change when it comes to player safety or America's willingness to accept and embrace an institution that ultimately isn't as concerned as it should be.

In the end, Sony is a corporation, and the purpose of corporations is to make money, not expose injustice. And if the aim is to make money, it's probably wise to do everything possible to stay in good standing with a multibillion-dollar organization in the unique position of having the entire nation—and the wallets of its citizens—firmly seated in the palm of its hand. But it is disheartening. We've already read about players who commit suicide, beat their wives, beat their children and take part in countless other horrifying instances that the league treats as mere public relations snafus. It's scary to think what might need to happen to actually move the needle when it comes to the disconcerting aspects of the league, but in reality, there may not be any limit to what we're willing to endure. The machine will, in all likelihood, keep on churning in perpetuity, fed by our dollars and answering to no one.