'Concussion' puts spotlight on injury and ties to NFL

Thursday, December 24, 2015
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The movie Concussion starring Philadelphia-native Will Smith opens in theaters Christmas Day.

The movie 'Concussion' starring Philadelphia-native Will Smith opens in theaters Christmas Day

It puts the spotlight on concussions in football and the risk for long-term effects.

Many neurologists and neurosurgeons have been following this story long before Hollywood got involved.

Some local doctors tell me they hope the film will spark more awareness in the general public including parents of young athletes.

But that it won't spark fear.

The movie follows the true story of a Nigerian-born pathologist in Pittsburgh who linked brain damage to a former professional football player who suffered repetitive hits.

In the movie, the doctor, Bennet Omalu, then takes on the NFL.

Doctors Douglas Smith and Sean Grady of Penn Medicine Neurosurgery are both experts on brain injury and concussion.

They say while the condition was not new, linking it to football was.

"Because football is such a high profile sport that got everybody's attention," Grady said.

And both doctors hope the movie will continue to raise awareness.

"For me, the important thing from all of this, all the attention, is not really the NFL so much but it's peewee football, it's hockey leagues, it's really the kids that we have to think about, keeping their brains safe," Smith said.

Both agree progress has been made.

We now know after a hit to the head, athletes need to sit out. And there's better testing but there's still a lot we don't know about concussions.

"How many are too many and does it vary from person to person and is there a point if someone had three to four concussions that they should not go back to contact sports, we don't know the answer to that," Grady said.

They also say more work is needed to determine the best treatment.

But both agree concussions are a part of contact sports; that doesn't mean kids shouldn't play them, but it does mean athletes, parents and coaches need to be aware of the risks. That is something the movie will likely hit home.

"Concussion is not a rite of passage, it can be very serious for some people," Smith said.

The local doctors couldn't comment on whether there was a cover-up by the NFL.

Regarding the movie, NFL officials have said they welcome any conversation about player health and safety.