Sony executives reportedly changed certain aspects of a controversial movie due out in December to avoid enraging the NFL, according to The New York Times.
The Times found correspondence relating to “Concussion” in emails that were leaked in the hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment late last year.
Executives discussed altering the script for the movie to remove or change “unflattering moments for the NFL” and making sure that marketing materials clarified that Will Smith, the star of the movie, is not “anti-football.”
The movie, due out on Christmas Day, focuses on the doctor who discovered the brain disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (or CTE), which has been found in football players who experience head trauma from the sport.
Dwight Caines, the president of domestic marketing at Sony Pictures, wrote in an email last August: “Will is not anti football (nor is the movie) and isn’t planning to be a spokesman for what football should be or shouldn’t be but rather is an actor taking on an exciting challenge. We’ll develop messaging with the help of NFL consultant to ensure that we are telling a dramatic story and not kicking the hornet’s nest.”
Another Sony executive suggested that “rather than portray the N.F.L. as one corrupt organisation can we identify the individuals within the N.F.L. who were guilty of denying/covering up the truth,” the Times notes.
And a July 2014 email claims that a Sony lawyer took “most of the bite” out of the movie for “legal reasons.”
CTE has been a major sore spot for the NFL — players who had the disease have committed suicide and the NFL recently settled a lawsuit from former players for $US765 million, although the case hasn’t been completely resolved yet. The NFL initially denied that CTE and other brain injuries were linked to football, but later agreed to take steps to protect players.
The director and writer of “Concussion,” Peter Landesman, told the Times that changes to the script were made in the interest of fairness and accuracy, not to appease the NFL.
“We don’t want to give the NFL a toehold to say, ‘They are making it up,’ and damage the credibility of the movie,” Landesman told the Times. He added that taking too much creative licence would “damage our credibility as filmmakers.”
Despite any changes that were made to the film, the first trailer for “Concussion” still doesn’t seem to show the NFL in a very positive light:
The NFL released this statement on the film: “We are encouraged by the ongoing focus on the critical issue of player health and safety. 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.”
Here’s how the CTE Center at Boston University describes the disease:
The repeated brain trauma triggers progressive degeneration of the brain tissue, including the build-up of an abnormal protein called tau. The brain degeneration is associated with common symptoms of CTE including memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, suicidality, parkinsonism, and eventually progressive dementia. These symptoms often begin years, or even decades after the last brain trauma or end of active athletic involvement.
Research into CTE continues today, as there is some dispute about whether or not it is a distinct disease.
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