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Facing an onslaught of potentially damaging PR, the National Football League has drafted its own game plan for dealing with the upcoming Sony film Concussion.
The league will host a series of discussions, conferences and scientific strategy meetings about player safety over the coming months in the run-up to Concussion’s release Christmas Day. In fact, the NFL says it welcomes the Will Smith-led film’s ability to spark dialogue on the subject, despite being portrayed as an organization that tried to conceal findings about the long-term effects of football-related head trauma.
“When something like this movie comes up and people want to talk about concussions or football or the future of the sport, that’s an opportunity for us to engage,” Jeff Miller, NFL senior vp health and safety policy, told The Hollywood Reporter. “We intend to do just that over the course of the movie and long after that.”
Among the events planned are a convening of concussion experts at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center that is being funded by a grant from the NFL Foundation (beginning Oct. 15) and the International Professional Sports Concussion Research Think Tank in London (Oct. 23-25).
The NFL isn’t shirking from the media glare in the wake of Monday’s Concussion trailer debut, which prompted major news coverage from networks and national outlets. Miller says the NFL will speak to any press outlet that wants to know about the health and safety questions in football and what the league is doing to reduce concussions. Perhaps more intriguing, the NFL would even entertain the prospect of working with Sony on raising awareness.
“The studio hasn’t asked,” Miller added. “And if they were to and it gives us the opportunity to talk about the health and safety of our sport, we would do that. But there hasn’t been any communication to this point.”
Sony declined comment.
To date, no one from the NFL has been invited to see the film, which has been screened mostly for sports journalists, including writers and editors at Sports Illustrated, which made the film its cover story this week.
Meanwhile Sony is scrambling in the aftermath of a New York Times article — citing a series of hacked emails — that claims the studio softened the film’s take on the NFL. In response, the studio has put the film’s director Peter Landesman on the record for a number of news outlets including THR in an effort to reverse the perception that it caved to pressure. The NFL, too, is bristling at the suggestion that it applied any pressure to alter the film. THR could find no evidence in the trove of leaked emails from last year that the studio and the NFL had any contact regarding Concussion beyond a brief email exchange between Landesman and NFL communications chief Paul Hicks in which the director requested a meeting that never materialized (Hicks asked for and was denied a copy of the script).
“It’s probably something that we, the league, need to do a better job of in terms of talking about the things we do [to educate] as well as continuing to do the things we do to improve the [safety of the] game,” Miller added. “If this [movie] presents an opportunity to engage in that conversation, then that’s terrific for us.”
And while Sony and the NFL are waging their own PR campaigns over the film’s treatment of the league, Dr. Christopher Giza, director of UCLA’s Steve Tisch BrainSPORT Program, offered up an outside perspective on the Concussion debate.
“One concern I have is that the film might paint too dire a picture of a post-concussion prognosis,” Dr. Giza said. “People who have suffered concussions need — and should have — hope because there’s a lot that can be done, and we are learning more every day.”
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