Concussion film gets criticized for its handling of Dave Duerson

AP

The Concussion movie debuted on Friday, complete with an eleventh-hour P.R. push arising from an open invitation to all players, owners, and their families to see the film for free.

Publicity is always free, even if it’s negative. And that’s what the movie has drawn regarding its handling of the late Dave Duerson, a former player who served on the joint league-union disability board that determined whether players will receive benefits for debilitating injuries resulting from football.

The family of Duerson, who committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest so that his brain could be studied for the presence of Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy, claims that the film vilifies Duerson for not caring about the plight of the men whose claims he helped block.

According to the New York Times, the film creates the impression that Duerson’s lack of compassion for the struggles of Andre Waters may have contributed to Waters’ own suicide.

In one scene, Duerson tells Waters, “Got a headache? See a doctor.” In the next scene, Waters kills himself.

“What the movie doesn’t appreciate was how difficult a position he was in,” Duerson’s son, Tregg Duerson, told the Times. “You have someone on a board with a fiduciary responsibility who can’t just give out dollars for the sake of giving out dollars. I think his hands were tied.”

Former NFL player and disability board member Robert Smith recently echoed the criticism of the film on Twitter, saying that it “smears Dave Duerson and all of us who serve or served on the disability board.” Added Smith: “Filmmakers are cowards to lie about a dead man.”

Director Peter Landesman has defended the movie with a carefully-worded explanation that essentially admits that the movie doesn’t reflect the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

“As we were making a feature film and not a documentary, and it’s not a Wikipedia entry, people go to movies not to digest information and data but to have an emotional experience,” Landesman told the Times. “The movie is emotionally and spiritually accurate all the way through.”

The more financially accurate explanation could be that Sony feared no liability to Duerson because, by law, the dead cannot be defamed. With the NFL, Sony was careful to ensure that the film contained nothing that would give the league a basis for litigation based on the potential argument that lies were told about the way the league handled the concussion situation and/or persons like Dr. Bennet Omalu, who eventually forced the league to confront it.

That’s why, legally, it doesn’t matter if Duerson didn’t, for example, actually tell Omalu to “get away from our game.” Any statements or actions attributed to people who are still alive could have resulted in an outcome far more troublesome and expensive than complaints from family members and friends of Duerson.

It’s no surprise that Landesman opted to portray Duerson as uncaring for those with cognitive issues, since Duerson’s own brain trauma eventually cause him to claim his own life. The irony surely makes the film a more complete “emotional experience.” But Landesman and Sony should have been committed to telling the truth not just to avoid being sued, but because a story this important demands not artistic license but the truth.

So, basically, that Will Smith “tell the truth!” scene from the movie perhaps should have been directed not only at the subject of the film but to the people who made it.

45 responses to “Concussion film gets criticized for its handling of Dave Duerson

  1. Lots of professions cause long term harm to the participants. Exposure to carcinogens in trades, road crews getting struck by cars, cops and firemen get hurt, there are a zillion stories that all need attention. Everybody does what they have to do. If you don’t want the consequences of NFL life, do lIke Chris Borland, give back the money and walk away.

  2. justanotherdummy says:
    Dec 26, 2015 2:51 PM
    Lots of professions cause long term harm to the participants. Exposure to carcinogens in trades, road crews getting struck by cars, cops and firemen get hurt, there are a zillion stories that all need attention. Everybody does what they have to do. If you don’t want the consequences of NFL life, do lIke Chris Borland, give back the money and walk away.
    _______________________________________
    I agree. 9/11 First Responders are still dying. These people didn’t make millions by simply playing a game. The problem is, most of the NFL players have no marketable skills they can in the real world. Difficult to walk away from the NFL when your only other choices are prison, McDonald’s, or Walmart!

  3. I wonder if the research into CTE took into account the impact steroids or HGH had on it, if any. There are glandular and mental impact from PEDs of any kind. It could account for why some football players don’t show any effect, or minimal effects.

  4. How about a Hollywood movie about PTSD. Not just in service members, but in emergency service workers in the states, too. Way more severe than concussions.

  5. Does the movie also cover all the head trauma that stuntman have endured in the film industry, so that Will Smith (and others) could make all those 100’s of millions of dollars?

  6. I’d suggest watching PBS’s League of Denial over this Hollywood movie. I think the PBS documentary comes closer to the truth, though, of course, the full truth will always remain elusive because too many people with too many agendas are involved.

  7. It’s a Hollywood movie people so do not ever expect the truth in any story when their main objective is to promote a pre-determined story line. Frontline has an excellent production filmed in 2013 on PBS. The major trouble the league is facing for the future is the Moms of America telling their children that football is not a sport they will be participating in. The QB pool is already dwindling.

  8. Well, this move is going to be long forgotten by the middle of January. There are a number of factors in play here that don’t favor this movie having any sort of impact or entering the public consciousness. To begin with, the geniuses who decided when to put the movie out did so one week after the monster of all monsters debuted. Second, Hollywood is terrible at history (JFK). Third, sports movies really aren’t playing well in theaters these days. Fourth, the viewing public is being awfully fickle these days and there are movies left and right that are tanking. Clooney, Bullock, Murray, Cooper, and Mcconaughey are all supposedly A-list actors who have been in movies that have just completely bombed this year.

  9. It sounds a lot more like certain people simply don’t like the way he’s depicted, as opposed to him being depicted incorrectly.

    There’s a big difference. Making up a couple lines is one thing, but it sounds like people connected to Duerson and the board are simply uncomfortable with things that sound like they’re generally accurate.

    Duerson’s family sued the NFL after it was found that he had CTE. I’m guessing they didn’t think the NFL’s “hands were tied” at that point.

  10. Justanotherdummy says the players have not other marketable skills to fall back on. What the hell happened to the college education they were given. Yeah, I know, it was a joke education to allow them to play football. What it comes down to is in these cases, the players didn’t take advantage of the chance to be educated so it comes back to not taking responsibility for themselves.

  11. The QB pool is dwindling because of the style of play not because Moms are telling their sons not to play. The NFL is still a pocket passer game. Everywhere else it’s not. In youth league, high school and college its a spread option offense or a variation of it. You can do that at those levels but not in the NFL and be successful for long. It might work at first but the defenses will adapt and stop it and then you have to go to plan B and that’s where the problem with the QB’s are now. So many of them can’t read defenses, have no pocket presence and rely too much on the athletic ability.

  12. At least the movie is prompting some dialog about CTE, PTSD, carcinogens in the workplace, dangerous occupations etc. Too bad it seems that most of the dialog is among us folks on PFT.

    ~ a nurse

  13. …I’ll go watch it but I dont expect it be super accurate…what movies about actually events are? As far as the topic of concussion s…todays players know the harmful long term damage they may endure…..buyer beware. Its a choice. No one is forcing them to play NFL football for millions of dollars. Its the old timers that got shafted.

  14. How can you even take a fictitious movie seriously. The movie is neither entertaining or educational. It’s complete garbage. The NFL is doing all it can to keep players safe, as new medical information is streaming in. As soon as new discoveries are made, the NFL makes appropriate changes. Now we’re starting to hear about issues associated with head shots in soccer. I’m sure soccer will change rules to protect its players too. Every time I get into my car or into a plane I’m taking a risk, but I’m not walking from New York to California.

  15. The NFL as we know it today benefited by the exploitation of the players in the 70’s. There were no safety rules in place for them. You could close line a player on a route, head slap your opponent, and horse collar anyone. The safety rules in today’s game is only to make it look like the NFL cares about the players. The lawsuit is the the reason why all these safety measures are now in place. If you suffered a concussion back then, you were sent right back in; You would have been considered weak if you sat out back then…So please, for most of you that weren’t around to appreciate what the players of yesteryear established. Please respect the foundation of the NFL they have laid for the game we now enjoy.

  16. While I side with the movie and scientific research on the correlation between football concussions and CTE, I thought the movie wasn’t very good.

  17. When I first read about Duersons’ unwillingness to hand out money for a disability he himself suspected he had, I knew there was much more to the story. Where to find accuracy is the problem.

  18. INT DAVE DUERSON’S DEN – DAY

    The room is dimly lit. Dave sits in a large easy chair and downs some scotch. He speaks into the phone.

    DUERSON: Sorry, Andre. The owners brought in this kid who says no settlements unless you show him physical damage … Huh? Well, I’m going to do the only thing I can.

    INT ANDRE WATERS’ KITCHEN – DAY

    Andre stares down at the phone receiver in his hand. His wife walks in with some dirty dishes.

    WIFE: What’d he say?

    WATERS: I dunno, the line just went dead.

  19. The subject is important, but if they wanted to make a serious movie, why did they pick a terrible actor like Will Smith?

  20. “The problem is, most of the NFL players have no marketable skills they can in the real world. Difficult to walk away from the NFL when your only other choices are prison, McDonald’s, or Walmart!”

    They do have something marketable, which is NFL experience. There are plenty of companies out there that love to say they have a former NFL player in their employment. If they finished school, even better. Doors will open to them outside the NFL, but it depends on if they’re doors they want to walk through.

    Not to mention that if they don’t try to live above their means, even if they play a league average of a few years, they should still have enough in the bank to give them a decent start in life.

  21. tonebones says:
    Dec 26, 2015 5:47 PM
    How can you even take a fictitious movie seriously. The movie is neither entertaining or educational. It’s complete garbage. The NFL is doing all it can to keep players safe, as new medical information is streaming in. As soon as new discoveries are made, the NFL makes appropriate changes

    Yes NOW the league is doing those things. For years they denied, lied and covered up the long term effects of concussions. They knew long ago and lied to the players. Pretty sure that’s what the movie and the lawsuit are about.

  22. “As we were making a feature film and not a documentary, and it’s not a Wikipedia entry, people go to movies not to digest information and data but to have an emotional experience,” Landesman told the Times. “The movie is emotionally and spiritually accurate all the way through.”
    ##############################################
    What does emotionally and spiritually accurate mean?

    It means you changed the story to fit your narrative which makes it fiction. The problem is you cannot claim the moral high ground with fiction. they should have made a documentary.

  23. Also as others have posted, the NFL didnt do anything for these players until it became a legal issue. All these rules are not for the care of the players, its to cover the leagues rear. They dont care about players, its about making money.

    Part of the lawsuit states the NFL would fork over millions of dollars if they did not have to reveal their findings about concussions and when they knew about it. That is because it would of shown they knew all along, which would of opened the door for more legal issues. Its all about protecting the business, the shield.

  24. It’s true that Hollywood dramas notoriously play fast and loose with facts. That’s one of the reasons I love, “Inglourious Basterds,” which mocks that concept. But in this case, saying that “Concussion” is a Hollywood drama (and therefore full of inaccuracies) doesn’t change the fact that the NFL knew the medical effects of repeated head trauma and deliberately withheld that information from players.

    Also, the fact that Duerson “had a fiduciary” responsibility doesn’t make it any less heartless to tell Waters to “take an aspirin” (if he really did that or something like it). The quote from Waters’ son, “his hands were tied,” makes me think that a lot irresponsible things were said (player on player) that people now regret.

    It’s a false cause to assume that Duerson wasn’t rude to Andre Waters because Duerson later figured out he had CTE (and also killed himself). It’s not impossible that Duerson did in fact treat Waters poorly and later discovered he was starting to suffer from the same condition.

    The outrage defense (how dare you …) is usually the first thing the guilty try to shut down the conversation. And I’m not shocked that the NFL would try to turn the tables on this movie (and this subject) and claim to be the victims. In politics, that’s standard operating procedure.

  25. The movie is a sham like all Hollywood “inspired by true events” films. The film has a single agenda, make $. The people behind it don’t give a damn about football players.

  26. The league lied and lied and lied and lied and lied for many years knowing that concussions caused long term brain damage.

    Especially for people who suffer multiple concussions.

    Younger fans have no idea how vicious the defenders used to be able to be without flags, without fines, without any issue except us fans going “Wow ! what a brutal hit ! Yeah !!!!”

    No defenseless receiver rules, no helmet to helmet hit rules, none of that. None.

    There were players that must easily have suffered upwards of 20 concussions and the only thing they heard was “you just got your bell rung, sit out a play or 2 and get your rear end back in there” after they woke them back up with smelling salts.

    You may not like Will Smith. You may not have any interest in the movie. But make no mistake, the league used these players for years with no regard to their health or what happened to them after football. It was disgusting and vile of the owners to ignore the fact players were getting permanent brain damage. This movie needed to be made.

  27. This is really a minor issue in the movie. The larger issue is that players were committing suicide due to CTE and the NFL and Paul Tagliabue and Roger Goodell didn’t seem to give a damn and tried to discredit the doctor that discovered CTE and tried to bury the evidence. You’ve got multiple players committing suicide due to head trauma and the NFL turned their heads the other way because they wanted the money train to keep going. Just disgraceful. NFL looks bad here. No big surprise. Goodell screwed up concussions just like he screwed up the bogus DeflateGate. Goodell must resign now.

  28. In this comment thread:

    – People speculating out loud that maybe concussions/CTE isn’t a big deal
    – People “wondering” if CTE researchers did enough to really determine that football is what caused long-term brain damage
    – People suggesting that because they make the choice to play football, and because they make millions (sometimes), we shouldn’t care about their health
    – People assuming that because a conversation in a dramatized version of real events is questioned or disputed, that the rest of the movie doesn’t really matter.

    Come on, people. Manage your expectations, and don’t assume the worst about the people involved.

  29. Also the filmmakers might have added that CTE was discovered decades before Will Smith claimed to have found it. According to Chris Nowitzki the Will Smith character in real life is an opportunist and a bit of an ego maniac who self inflates the role he played. Chris, fyi, is a well known and respected figure in the Community of those studying CTE. A former player himself, and pro wrestler, he got the ball rolling on getting players to start donating their brains.

  30. Alot of talk concerning a issue ad disguised as a movie. And that movie looks to make $10million this weekend.

    Football players understand the risks, and they are compensated very well. From a free education to the money they make once they make it to the league.

  31. You can make all the stupid comments you want to…

    .. Dave Duerson was a stand-up guy. Great football player, better human being.

    For him to go down like he did; I’m pretty sure he was making a statement…

    … Not the one this movie is portraying.

    Go google Dave Duerson. There’s a reason why/how he did what he did. There’s a reason why this movie was ever made. There’s a reason for the way the NFL is handling concussions, now, like they are.

    Junior Seau: Same way/same thing.

    OH wait though! Junior can’t be the bad guy.. TOO SOON!

    Viable product for the movie, but misguided research to say the least.

  32. It didnt show Duerson unfairly. He did what he did to protect the rich owners of the NFL.. He himself KNEW there was a problem and sided with the devil. He had a choice the movie just showed the choice he made. Too bad if people can’t handle the truth.

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