Tom Brady take notice– and all those aspiring to play his game. Getting hit in the head repeatedly can kill you–it’s a no-brainer, that is, it can literally destroy your brain. From Oscar-nominated HOOP DREAMS director Steve James and Harvard defensive tackle Chris Nowinski who wrote the book, comes a shocking, powerful, and bluntly effective documentary about a silent epidemic fundamental to contact sports at every level: concussion. As innocuous as that sounds, the condition is anything but.
HEAD GAMES builds a compelling case linking repeated head trauma to CTE Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy — a degenerative disease of the brain, leading to depression, dementia, memory loss, lack of impulse control, and suicide. Not until pro football star Andre Waters suicide did a medical coroner, after slicing into Waters’ brain, make the connection; what he discovered made headlines linking CTE to brain damage from football– and sent the The NFL– which has made millions on the backs of its players– scurrying to distance itself from the facts.
Nowinski’s observations about the repercussions of his own repeated head trauma, as well as first-hand accounts by athletes male and female, young and middle-aged, in contact sports from soccer to hockey and football, build momentum. Stopping us in our tracks are heartbreaking scenes like NFL player Gene Atkins’ inability to name the months of the year; or watching as a widow hears the results of an autopsy showing her boxer husband’s increasingly violent behavior and eventual suicide was the result of career-long head trauma and CTE.
The epidemic is fueled by the “tough it out” mentality of players, coaches, parents, NFL bigwigs, and at least one pediatrician who confesses she wouldn’t stop her son from playing hockey –though he’s already had one concussion– because of their family’s love of the game. No one wants to believe it’s a problem. Indeed, HEAD GAMES is an enlightening look at how difficult it is to take on any deeply entrenched mindset, and the culture invested in it–even when the facts are as plain as the bump on your head. To its credit, the documentary makes a compelling case for the “good” that sports do–building character and community.
That leads, of course, to a central question, and sportscaster Bob Costas asks it: “What is the level of acceptable risk?” And that prompts others like me to ask, can we not change the game to make it less deliberately violent? That would mean eliminating fist fighting in hockey, head butting in football, limiting full contact during practice. That would mean–yes, curbing our bloodlust as a culture. And I’m not just being a girl. NY TIMES sports reporter Alan Schwarz– instrumental in bringing this info to the public–says, he can’t imagine anybody not watching “football anymore because there’s no head slaps…the rest of the game is still good enough.”
Devastating and incontrovertible, HEAD GAMES is a must see– if you want to keep your head on straight.