Film Review: Eye-Opening Cost of Playing Sports in ‘Head Games’
CHICAGO – A father speaks through tears about the teammates for his deceased son standing at the funeral in the balcony paying honor to their lost captain and it’s impossible not to ask the daunting question at the core of “Head Games,” the new documentary from the great Steve James (“Hoop Dreams,” “The Interrupters”) that opens this weekend at the Siskel Film Center – how much longer can this go on? How much longer can we let grown men and women ruin their lives by repeated head injuries the NFL, NHL, and other sports? And how long can we let kids do the same? As a reporter says candidly, “A lot of people don’t want to believe this is as serious as it is.” We have to start believing.
“Head Games” is an eye-opener. It’s a film that teaches while it essentially terrifies. I have two young boys, and when they express interest in playing sports, it will be impossible not to remember what I learned from this film. The fact is there are a lot of myths out there about concussions. First, the very definition of a concussion is questionable. All the times a player felt dizzy or “shook it off,” that may have done the same brain damage as a concussion. Second, most of the damage is irreversible. The myth that a player is healed enough after a few days to get another one? Nonsense. When a doctor is asked how long players should wait to return to play after a concussion? “Fifty years.” Another suggests, slightly more reasonably, that three diagnosed concussions should force a player to retire from the sport. And what about this terrifying conjecture? What if it’s not the concussions but the hundreds of sub-concussive hits that are doing the most damage?
|Read Brian Tallerico’s full review of “Head Games” in our reviews section.|
Can you imagine? The definition of concussions are lowered to more accurately reflect the damage and three of them ends a career? The NFL would be over as James’ film terrifyingly notes how many football players are getting head injuries before they’re old enough to drive much less play in the NFL. And we all know the billion-dollar machine that is the NFL is not going anywhere. And so Christopher Nowinski, who wrote the book “Head Games: Football’s Concussion Crisis,” which was the inspiration for this film, faces a lot of resistance. He faces coaches who schedule mandatory weight training during his symposiums. And, in a riveting scene, an athletic director who suggests it’s not a problem because of all the players who don’t have concussion symptoms (to which Nowinski brilliantly responds that it’s equivalent to saying that not everyone who smokes gets lung cancer as a defense for lighting up.)
Photo credit: Variance Films