Review: Concussion

Do we respond like Dr Omalu or the NFL, asks Ben McEachen

Will Smith
Will Smith’s latest movie Concussion is out February 18, 2016

How much is someone worth? We know the right answer is meant to be: "How dare you ask that! No-one can put a price on another person." But do our actions match up with our thoughts?

Wanting more money and possessions easily can dominate our lives. We're surrounded by slogans, offers and schemes for how to have more, more, more. And what's the harm in going after a bit of extra cash, or a newer car, or a refreshed bathroom, or an up-to-date laptop? Nothing... until such desires change the way we value everything else. Even the way we value people can be changed, leading us to paying a terrible cost that we might not notice until it's too late.

Having played champion boxer Muhammad Ali, screen superstar Will Smith's next movie has him playing another real-life fighter. While Bennet Omalu is less well-known, what he did was remarkable. Having moved from Nigeria to the USA to pursue his medical career, forensic pathologist Dr Omalu began studying the brain injuries of professional gridiron players.

Released at cinemas from February 18, Concussion presents what happened when Dr Omalu announced disturbing findings about the deadly risks posed to those in the American National Football League (NFL). His attempts to value each NFL player, by warning of head trauma caused by hard knocks, were met with hostility from the NFL's bosses.

Concussion suggests the NFL's fierce opposition was motivated by greed. The financial gain attached to NFL games being played was valued more highly than those playing the games.

Dr Bennet Omalu
“If they continue to deny my work, man continues to die” - Dr Bennet Omalu (played by Will Smith)

"The NFL has known about the concussion issue for years," alleges one of Dr Omalu's colleagues in the movie. But rather than face the possibility of enormous losses due to medical issues suffered by players, the powerful NFL Corporation seemingly chose to do "whatever it takes to keep them in the game". This included trying to discredit Dr Omalu's research and bury his findings.

Concussion spotlights the tragic point when professional sport becomes a ruthless business. It also introduces us to one person who dared to challenge wealth being valued over people. Dr Omalu believed his studies would enhance gridiron and told Good Morning America that he battled the mighty NFL because "it's about these players and their families that have suffered for so long".

A long, long time before the NFL challenged Omalu, a rich young guy also had issues with what he valued. When he asked Jesus what he had to do to live forever with God, Jesus' answers ultimately revealed what this rich young guy's heart was all about. For he was deeply upset when Jesus told him to sell all he had and give to the poor all the money he made (see Matthew 19:13-22).

Jesus was not saying money is bad and we must get rid of it. He was hitting at the core of a person who prizes their own wealth higher than loving other people as Jesus loves them. The selfless love Jesus models is the central principle of the laws which the rich young guy says he has kept. Yet, as Jesus points out, this wealthy bloke has totally missed that. He's missed the value system the laws are based on. And the result of missing it is the most costly mistake anyone can make. Ultimately, it leads to not being able to share eternal life with God.

So, are we Dr Omalu or the NFL? Consider Concussion in light of what Jesus says. To not only help with what we value day to day – but forever.

Ben McEachen co-hosts a weekly review of movies and TV shows on The Big Picture.

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