It’s not every day that everybody stops what they’re doing in August to talk about a movie that’s scheduled to be released on Christmas Day. But the newly released trailer for “Concussion,” the Will Smith-starring feature film about Dr. Bennet Omalu, the doctor who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy, has torn across the sports media landscape with such force that even the NFL has felt compelled to weigh in.
“We are encouraged by the ongoing focus on the critical issue of player health and safety,” Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president of health and safety policy, wrote in a statement provided to International Business Times. “We have no higher priority. We all know more about this issue than we did 10 or 20 years ago. As we continue to learn more, we apply those learnings to make our game and players safer.”
The timing of the trailer’s release should have NFL executives reaching into desks for antacids. The regular season begins next week, and the league's top brass must accept that it will have to deal with Sony Pictures’ monthslong campaign to promote this film, which some people already are seeing as an Oscar contender.
Others, including heavyweight sports columnist Bill Simmons, see it as the kind of movie that could bring the NFL to heel, much as films like "The Insider" and "Blackfish" did to the tobacco industry and SeaWorld, respectively.
Doesn't "Concussion" look like "The Insider" for this generation, w/ the NFL in the tobacco industry role? I mean... http://t.co/MnoRWnQR4P
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) August 31, 2015
Watching how the NFL, and the massive media apparatus that orbits it, deals with this film's ongoing marketing campaign will be instructive. Films targeted at sports fans often look to build marketing tie-ins with sports broadcasters, the same ones who are locked into billion-dollar agreements with the NFL. Last year, ESPN was battered by critics for pulling its name and association from “League of Denial,” a "Frontline" documentary about how the NFL has handled its problems with concussions.
The strategy Sony used to debut this trailer suggests it will be leaning on sports media heavily. The “Concussion” trailer debuted in Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback column, a widely read part of NFL fans’ media diets that some have called overly sympathetic to NFL thinking and policy.
While it will be months before the film’s critical reception comes into focus, it already has had a significant impact on one former player who saw the film. According to a brief Q&A Peter King conducted with the film’s writer-director, Peter Landesman, the movie production invited Chris Borland, the former San Francisco 49ers linebacker who retired after one season amid concerns over his long-term health, to a private screening of “Concussion.” The film had a profound effect.
“At the end of it,” Landesman told King, “he was literally, physically shaking.
“I think that he wasn’t able to really understand the physical consequences of his own decision yet.”
Watch the "Concussion" trailer below: