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A scene involving National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell that was considered too incendiary to be included in Sony’s upcoming head-trauma drama Concussion has been obtained by The Hollywood Reporter.
The filmmaker behind the upcoming Will Smith movie — a fact-based drama about the NFL’s attempts to cover-up a chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) epidemic among its brain-battered players — revealed Wednesday to THR that the hot-button scene had been cut from the film over legal concerns.
The scene in question appears to implicate Goodell, depicted in Concussion by Luke Wilson, as being part of a wide NFL scheme to cover up the connection between professional football and brain damage.
Writer-director Peter Landesman‘s revelation came amid a larger refutation of a recent article in The New York Times that — citing hacked internal studio emails — suggested Sony had softened the film to avoid a conflict with the NFL. Concussion opens Christmas Day, and its first trailer debuted on Monday.
“These emails were taken out of context in a year-plus creative process that’s a constant negotiation,” Landesman said, before conceding that the Goodell scene “took place in a room that I wasn’t in, about a conversation that took place between people that I didn’t talk to.”
Landesman says the scene, which was based on a second-hand account, was cut from the shooting script because he “didn’t want to be defamatory.”
Sony declined to comment on the scene but it is not uncommon for a fact-based studio movie to get a thorough legal vetting and make cuts to decrease the likelihood of liability. Sony has released several films based on real events in recent years, including The Social Network, about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and Zero Dark Thirty, about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden.
“All films require a constant discussion between the creative and legal teams, and especially ones that are based on true stories,” a studio source tells THR. “Anyone who sees the movie will know that it never once compromises the integrity and power of the real story. In the end, they just wanted to make sure they got it right.”
THR has obtained a draft of the Concussion script dated May 30, 2014, and titled, “Untitled Concussion.” In it, the NFL commissioner, described in the screenplay as “47 and sandy-haired,” takes a midnight call at his mansion in Greenwich, Conn.
On the line is Dr. Joe Maroon, team neurosurgeon for the Pittsburgh Steelers (played in the film by Arliss Howard) and Dr. Elliot Pellman (played by Paul Reiser), the former NFL brain-injury research committee chairman and a highly controversial figure in the league’s ongoing concussion crisis.
“We have a serious problem,” Maroon tells Goodell.
“Dave Duerson killed himself today,” Pellman continues, referencing the former NFL safety who committed suicide in 2011 and left his brain to the Boston University School of Medicine for CTE research that would later prove crucial.
“He didn’t just kill himself. He shot himself in the chest, Roger. In the heart,” Maroon interjects. “He left a note. He wanted his brain donated. To be looked at. For CTE.”
Goodell responds: “Good God. Was he symptomatic?”
“I thought he was just an asshole,” Maroon replies, a suggestion that Duerson may have suffered from aggression and impulse-control problems, two side effects of CTE.
“For the brain’s last act to not just die, but preserve itself in the act of killing, humans don’t do that. We can’t explain it,” Maroon continues.
“This is going to unravel,” he says, and the scene ends.
Neither a neurologist nor neuropsychologist but a rheumatologist, Pellman was widely criticized as unfit to head up the NFL’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee when he was appointed to the post in 1994.
His name would later appear 26 times in a lawsuit contending the NFL attempted to conceal connections between football and CTE.
Pellman resigned from the committee in 2007, less than one year after the newly installed Goodell first voiced CTE concerns, saying in his annual “State of the League” address, “I don’t accept the premise that [forcing players with concussions to continue playing] was common practice, but it does concern me.”
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