When Tom Brady’s Deflategate suspension was overturned in Federal Court Thursday, Commissioner Roger Goodell’s already dubious legacy took another huge hit. Some took this as a sign that the multi-billion dollar entity that is the National Football League had lost some of its sway, but another piece of news broke yesterday that put that theory to rest.
Concussion, starring Will Smith, has been looming on the league’s horizon for quite a while now and — while many believed that the film could have a destructive impact on the league’s brand — it now appears that the script was watered down to avoid legal trouble.
The film presents the story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist that conducted the autopsy of Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster, leading to the discovery of a progressive, degenerative brain disease dubbed chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
In other words: One of the guys who discovered that concussions weren’t just bad, but rather, really, really, bad. For a sport that has had 446 concussion-related cases in just the last three seasons, it was paradigm-shifting news. That being said, many believed the Sony Pictures film could vault the issue into the national consciousness and force the NFL to answer for its handling of the issue.
In light of this New York Times piece, however, that now seems less likely.
The news outlet revealed yesterday that emails recovered after last year’s Sony hack appear to show that the studio stripped some of the more critical language from the script for fear of legal reprisals.
An email dated August 1, 2014, said that some “unflattering moments for the NFL” were changed or omitted entirely and, in a July 30, 2014 correspondence, a top Sony lawyer is identified as having taken “most of the bite” out of the upcoming film. “Legal reasons” were cited as the impetus for the move and it appears that Sony Pictures wants to do its best to avoid the inside of a courtroom.
Director Peter Landesman, however, has denied changing the script simply to placate the NFL and claims that the tweaks were only made to ensure that the film’s script was factually air-tight:
“We don’t want to give the NFL a toehold to say, ‘They are making it up,’ and damage the credibility of the movie. Here were things that might have been creatively fun to have actors say that might not have been accurate in the heads of the NFL or doctors. We might have gotten away with it legally, but it might have damaged our integrity as filmmakers. We didn’t have a need to make up anything because it was powerful and revelatory on its own. There was never an instance where we compromised the storytelling to protect ourselves from the NFL.”
Without knowing exactly what was removed, it’s tough to pass judgment, but it now seems possible that those who were hoping for a highly critical film with real teeth may be left wanting. We’ll find out for sure this Christmas when the movie hits theaters.
Concussion is currently in post-production and also stars Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Thor: Dark World, Pompeii) and Alec Baldwin. You can check out the trailer above.