you ever saw stars after getting your bell rung, than you had a
concussion. If that is the only thing
you take away from the latest documentary from Hoop Dreams director Steve James, the participants would probably
accept that. Several medical and athletic
experts sound a warning bell about the long term effects of concussions and similar
sports-related head trauma throughout the course of James’ Head Games (trailer
opens this Friday in New York.
injuries are as misunderstood and misdiagnosed as concussions. Chris Nowinski ought to know. He had dozens, but just shook them off as competitive
players are apt to do. However, you do
not just shake off the damage done.
Eventually, it caught up with the former Ivy League football player
turned WWE professional wrestler.
Suddenly, he was not okay, but at least he had the presence of mind to
seek help from one of the foremost concussion specialists after his backstage
a Harvard grad, Nowinski became the perfect public face to raise awareness of
the links between concussions and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). He also became the Center for the Study of
CTE’s point person for convincing the bereaved family members of recently
deceased athletes to donate their loved ones’ brain tissue in hopes of
determining whether they suffered from CTE.
the typical standards of sports documentaries, Head Games is a major downer, but it is not anti-sport. Nobody interviewed in the film wants to ban
football. In fact, many confess to being
big fans. Shrewdly, James and Nowinski
maintain a wide focus, addressing many sports, including girls’ soccer, arguing
young players with an aggressive air game are particularly at risk.
Nowinski, James has a real ace-in-the-hole for his POV figure. He is articulate (as Joe Biden might say) and
has all the necessary athletic cred.
Frankly, it is rather baffling that the WWE made him a villain, but they
just could not get past the Harvard thing.
Like the rest of the experts, Nowinski admits he does not have all the
answers, but at least he is trying to help develop CTE treatment protocols.
To James’ great credit, Head Games is a reasoned, well measured documentary, completely
shunning sensational alarmism. His
framing device of a “David versus Goliath” inner-city peewee football game also
helps put things in prospective. One
mother tells the audience she loves the program, because it keeps her son off
the street. Ultimately, the Head Games experts admit nothing in life
is one hundred percent safe. Tempering
genuine alarm with prudent realism, Head
Games is a responsible film, recommended for ardent sports enthusiasts when
it opens this Friday (9/21) in New York at the AMC Empire.
Labels: Chris Nowinski, Documentary, Steve James