The story behind Steelers Mike Webster’s death coming soon to a theatre near you

Sandy Huffaker

“Men in Black” star set to portray Pittsburgh pathologist in movie about former "Man in Black n Gold" star Mike Webster’s death and the autopsy work that helped break down the NFL’s years of denial on concussions.

The NFL is thinking of expanding the draft to increase media coverage (and thus revenue); it wants to expand the playoff format to increase the number of teams to increase media coverage (and thus revenue); it wants to expand the season to 18 games to increase media coverage (and thus revenue), but it seems it forgot one medium that has the power, and blood thirstiness, that rivals its own but is not beholden to the NFL except as a source of fodder for its own revenue hungry appetite.

The Washington Post is reporting that there are three movies under way in Hollywood dealing with the NFL Concussion issue, with one based on the 2009 GQ article "Game Brain" and starring movie superstar Will Smith.

Smith will portray the Pittsburgh pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu in the story of Dr. Omalu's s discovery of what came to be known as CTEs symptoms in the brain of deceased Steelers center Mike Webster, and the ensuing years of professional and personal battles Dr. Omalu was forced to engage in with the NFL's MTBI committee (Mild Traumatic Brain Injury) as well as others in the medical community.  The GQ article "Game Brain" chronicles Dr. Omalu's determined efforts to get recognition of what he found, and includes the involvement of Dr. Julian Bailes, a neurosurgeon who had worked for 10 years as the team doctor for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The second movie under way is based on the book "League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth" by Fainaru and Fainaru-Wada, which takes the NFL to task in great detail for its years of denial and obfuscation of the concussion issue.

The third movie under way, "Game Time Decision" is an independent film revolving around a retired player who suffers from the effects of CTE.  This film will star "Grey's Anatomy" star Isaiah Washington.  The writer and director of this film, Matthew A. Cherry, is a former wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals who was cut after one year, but is considered a rising star as an independent movie director, writer and producer and who has produced three movies, with his latest ("The Last Fall", 2012) showing the harsh and heartless business side of football for a non-star player.

Cherry was quoted as saying:  "I was shocked to learn my former Bengals teammate Chris Henry, who died at the young age of 26 from a truck accident, suffered from CTE.  My goal is to truthfully present what life is like for a person that suffers from this disease and to further the conversation on how CTE impacts players and their family members."

The NFL should not be surprised at this burgeoning interest in this human-interest aspect of football by Hollywood given the League's never-ending efforts at staying in the forefront of the public's awareness, but combine Hollywood's penchant for putting emotional impact above the facts (compare the movie "The Blind Side" to the book of the same name written by Michael Lewis and it becomes quite clear), with the star power of a Will Smith or Isaiah Washington and it won't matter how much truth is glossed over, the mainstream public's emotional impression of the game of football is going to be impacted, repeatedly.

Combine these movies with the current media attention on the never ending stories of more players filing additional lawsuits against the League not only for concussion related injuries, but also for the League's use of painkillers and it doesn't take the imagination of a Steven Spielberg to concoct a scenario whereby the NFL will become one of the movie industry's greatest villains, much like the shark in the Jaws movie.   Don't be surprised if after these movies come out the tag line "Just when you thought it was safe to go back onto the football field..." becomes the next internet meme.

Maybe Mark Cuban was right, just not for the reasons he thought.

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