Football dad Will Smith says conflicted about 'Concussion' role

Wed Nov 11, 2015 8:51pm EST
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By Piya Sinha-Roy

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actor Will Smith, a self-described "football dad," said he felt conflicted about starring in the new film "Concussion" as the doctor who discovered brain trauma, a leading factor in the deaths of some former National Football League (NFL) players.

Smith, who plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, the pathologist who a decade ago first linked brain damage to the deaths of men playing the most popular U.S. sport, said he had not known the full dangers of the head injuries football players can suffer.

"When I sat down to meet with Bennet, I was like, 'please say something to make me not take this movie, please,' and then I was just so compelled by the story and the fact that I didn't know," Smith told the audience at the film's premiere in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

"I had watched my son play football for four years, and I didn't know. And just as a parent, I felt like I had to be a part of this."

"Concussion," which opens in U.S. theaters on Dec. 25, is based on Omalu's discovery and raising awareness of the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy that can go undetected.

The film links deaths of several football players to the condition, particularly that of Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster.

The NFL said Wednesday that it "welcomed any conversation" about the safety of the game and had implemented numerous rule changes and concussion protocols in recent years.

"We are seeing measurable results, including a 34 percent decrease in concussions in NFL games since the 2012 season," a league spokesperson said in a statement regarding the film.   Continued...

Cast member Will Smith poses during the premiere of the film "Concussion" during AFI Fest 2015 in Hollywood, California, November 10, 2015. REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian