Head Games: Film Review

You'll think twice about sending off your kids to play school football after watching this powerful documentary about the devastating effects of head injuries in sports.

The devastating effects of head injuries in sports are detailed in Steve James' wrenching documentary.

Based on Christopher Nowinski’s book of the same name, this powerful documentary by Steve James (Hoop Dreams) tackles the hot-button issue of the devastating effects of head injuries in sports.

This primer on a topic that has only begun to receive the necessary attention in the last few years should serve as a sobering counterpoint to the start of the pro football season. Nowinski, a dominant presence throughout the proceedings, played football at Harvard before entering into a pro wrestling career for the WWE. His subsequent numerous head injuries left him debilitated to such an extent that even a brief workout left him reeling with nausea. This led to his writing the book about the dangers of contact sports and becoming an activist whose duties include the difficult task of attempting to persuade pro athletes to donate their brains for scientific study after their deaths.


Encompassing other sports including hockey, women’s soccer and, most disturbingly, teenage football leagues, Head Games makes the powerful argument that blows to the head, once considered something to simply shrug off, have fateful consequences. Compelling evidence is delivered in interviews with numerous scientists and doctors, with an onscreen dissection of a damaged brain providing a gruesome visual aid.

Also delivering sobering testimony are several athletes themselves, including former NHL hockey player Keith Primeau, who talks about his inability to refuse his children’s entreaties to follow in his footsteps despite the fact that his own career ended as a result of a concussion. Perhaps the most wrenching scene is one that vividly demonstrates just how physically debilitating such injuries can be. It consists of a neurologist examining a fiftysomething former football player who is unable to remember the correct order of the months of the year. The patient’s befuddled expression says volumes more about the topic than any of the articulate talking heads on display.

Opens Sept. 21 (Variance Films).

Director: Steve James.

Producers: Steve James, Bruce Sheridan.

Executive Producers: Anthony Athanas, Casey Cowell, John Cronin, Steve Devick, Andrew Filipowski, Fred Murane, Hank Neuberger, Jim O’Donovan.

Directors of photography: Dana Kupper, Keith Walker.

Editor: David E. Simpson.

Music: Billy Corgan, Craig Snider.

Rated PG-13, 91 min.