Professional football’s grip on American culture collides with growing concern about the game’s potential dangers in a new movie starring Will Smith, based on a GQ article about a Pittsburgh-trained forensic neuropathologist who first discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in former NFL players. It’s a David versus Goliath story that puts two-time Oscar nominee Smith in the center of a battle against an institution that he feels has been wrong about CTE and football.
In the movie, which premieres in theaters on Christmas Day, Omalu (Smith) fights against a National Football League group that is trying to suppress his research. The resulting tension is gripping and compelling, especially when Omalu’s emotional quest pits him against one of the most powerful and beloved institutions in the world.
For the scenes in which Omalu fights against football players, he recruited players from a local high school and an NCAA Division I program to take part. The team, which also formed part of Omalu’s family, played a series of three-whistle drills in which they simulated blows to the head.
Omalu’s resentment over the treatment by the NFL is palpable in the movie, but it also shows a genuine compassion for former NFL players. After he receives an anonymous phone call from a man accusing him of making football less “manly,” Omalu tells the caller that he wants to make sure kids know that they should not play the sport, but that he does not believe it is responsible for his condition.