Will Nowinski Documentary Propel Concussion Debate – Or Bog It Down in Vanity? (Part 1, ‘Game Within the Head Games’)

George Visger on Junior Seau
May 6, 2012
Email Exchange With Alan Schwarz of New York Times, Associate Producer of ‘Head Games’ Film (Part 2, ‘Game Within the Head Games’)
May 7, 2012

Next Tuesday, May 15, is the night of the premiere, in Chicago, of a new documentary, Head Games, which was inspired by the 2006 Chris Nowinski book of the same title. See http://www.headgamesthefilm.com/.

Billed as an account of the “public health issue of our time” – a characterization I wholeheartedly agree with – the film seems to have a substantial budget. Steve James, of Hoop Dreams fame, directed. Billy Corgan composed the score, which I am guessing employs a lot of violins.

Needless to say, I was not invited to the red-carpet opening, but I am looking forward to seeing the movie. Based on my screening of the trailer, I have some concerns over whether Head Games will get past the long-running self-congratulation phase of the work of Nowinski, Boston sports doctor Robert Cantu, and on-again off-again New York Times concussion writer Alan Schwarz. I also doubt that the film will push for more formidable reforms than have been advanced by this group ever since the Center for the Study of Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy at Boston University started accepting National Football League money two years ago. (In a 2010 news story, which was tantamount to a press release, Schwarz described the grant as “$1 million, and zero strings.”)

All the usual suspects/role players make appearances in the trailer. These include Schwarz, who, in keeping with his romantic curation, is billed as “The Reporter,” and is listed on the website as the film’s associate producer. Bob Costas supplies an appropriately measured sound byte. In February, Costas teed up Schwarz in the audience at a pre-Super Bowl town hall meeting in Indianapolis for the NBC cable sports network. As he has been doing in a very unfocused fashion ever since formally leaving the Times concussion beat last summer, Schwarz used that opportunity to further promote the idea that he and his buddies invented the concussion issue. It is a stance I find journalistically unseemly, and I fear Head Games will offer additional such preening.

My larger concern is that this slick, and no doubt competent and compelling, film will monopolize the oxygen for the offseason national conversation on the future of football, and frustrate the funding and progress of other documentaries on the subject. I would prefer to see a hundred concussion-debate flowers bloom.

In a post last Friday I talked about the eagerly anticipated United States of Football, by Sean Pamphilon, director of the award-winning Run Ricky Run for ESPN’s 30 for 30 series. I know of at least three other similar projects. Not all of them will make it to the finish line of the cinematic marketplace, but I’d like us to hear from as many voices as possible.

The substance of my disagreement with the approach of the Nowinski crowd has become a regular theme of this blog. I’ll be restating these misgivings as this series covering the release of Head Games: The Film proceeds.


Irv Muchnick

Comments are closed.

Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick