The New York Times says Alan Schwarz’s associate-producing of Head Games – the Steve James film adaptation of the Chris Nowinski book, funded by the billionaire developer of the King-Devick Concussion Test (insert superscripted registered trademark keyboard shortcut here) – passed muster with the company ethics policy.
Director James says he can’t talk about the funding of the documentary, and he’s not sure if this one will even be making the rounds of film festivals. According to a Chicago Tribune story about Head Games, that would be a highly unorthodox distribution strategy.
And no one will say how and how much Schwarz is being compensated for the project.
Yet many advocates of football reform remain willing to give these self-appointed custodians of the mental health of the next generation of American boys some vague benefit of the doubt for their lack of transparency regarding the movie’s funding and exploitation of the Schwarz/Times brand in the concussion debate.
This is a sad commentary on our national politic, both body and mind – as if a marketer of filtered cigarettes, in a film which may or may not air the viewpoint that kids shouldn’t smoke, is automatically assumed to be representing the commonweal.
Though I realize a majority of those reading this post do not entirely agree with my analogy, that is not the point. Eventually we can all see Head Games and review it for ourselves (that is, unless it never gets past its current “private sneak peek” phase). But there are no excuses – none – for the failure of the filmmaking team to put its cards on the table and answer basic questions about the players’ agendas.
On the Concussion Blog, Dustin Fink picked up our reports on the “Game Within Head Games” and pronounced them worthy of “head-scratching.” Unfortunately, even Fink was quick to follow up with supposed inside information that he understood Steve Devick has “no creative control” over the James documentary.
Such assurances mean nothing. After all, Schwarz had reported for The Times that the National Football League’s grant to the Dr. Robert Cantu and Chris Nowinski’s Center for the Study of Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy at Boston University had “zero strings” – a choice of words in the lead of a front-page news story that shouldn’t pass a first-year journalism course, much less a smell test. Whether Devick has, or acknowledges that he has, a measure of creative control is less important than the fact that he controls the rights to the film – a factor Fink does not appear to address.
Making excuses for the cronyism behind Head Games can only cut off the national conversation about football’s future before it even gets off the ground.
Next: A timeline of Alan Schwarz’s work on the concussion issue, for The Times and beyond.