‘Concussion’ movie critical of NFL

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LOS ANGELES (AP) “Concussion” delivers a hard hit to the NFL as it deals with data linking repeated blows to the heads of its players to dementia and a host of other problems.

The league’s rocky dealings with Dr. Bennet Omalu, who identified a degenerative disease in football players known as CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, are the focus of the movie’s second hour.

Starring Will Smith and Alec Baldwin, “Concussion” had its premiere Tuesday night at AFI Fest in Hollywood. Among the audience at the TCL Chinese Theatre was the wife of Justin Strzelczyk, the Steelers offensive lineman killed in a car crash, and the wife and daughter of Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau, who shot himself to death. Strzelczyk was later found to have brain damage, while Seau had CTE.

Smith plays Omalu, a Nigerian-born forensic pathologist in Pittsburgh who knows nothing about football when he performs the autopsy on former Steelers center Mike Webster. Omalu discovers CTE in Webster’s brain, setting him on a journey that exposes the concussion crisis.

Omalu quickly finds the NFL demanding he retract his CTE findings while accusing him of fraud. The doctor is the target of threatening phone calls and his wife is followed while driving alone.

The movie names real people and uses footage from real NFL games showing the kind of blows to the head that can injure and permanently damage players.

Smith’s character seeks a meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (played by Luke Wilson), who calls for a concussion summit where Omalu isn’t allowed in the room. Instead, Baldwin’s character, former Steelers physician Dr. Julian Bailes, presents Omalu’s findings.

Bailes tells Omalu the summit was staged so the NFL can say it listened.

“The league has kept everyone in the dark,” says Bailes, who explains he was chosen to speak because he was “one of the league’s own.”

At league offices in New York, grim-faced executives are informed of newspaper stories about CTE that are on the front page, not relegated to the sports or science sections.

Former NFL safety Dave Duerson, who worked for the league, is shown rejecting desperate pleas for help from Andre Waters, a hard-hitting safety who said his mind wasn’t right. Both Duerson and Waters died from self-inflicted gunshot wounds. Duerson was found to have evidence of CTE, while Waters had brain damage.

The movie ends with news of Seau’s death followed by statistics of the toll CTE has taken on NFL players and the concussion lawsuit filed by dozens of retired players.

Director Peter Landesman again denied a recent New York Times report that the movie was altered to placate the NFL.

“It’s almost laughable,” he said on the red carpet. “Anybody who sees this movie knows this movie is a shot between the eyes of the NFL. Not because we’re going after the NFL. Just because the truth is our defense you know and it’s a powerful movie about human beings. It’s not a hit piece about corporate America.”

The movie reveals nothing new about the long-term implications of repeated blows to the head. Its focus is on Omalu’s struggle to tell the truth and the tragic deaths of men who played the billion-dollar sport that is America’s favorite.

“The only criticism we’ve received is from people who haven’t seen the movie,” Landesman said during a post-screening Q & A. “None of us wanted the movie to be confrontational or judgmental. Everyone has a point of view. I love football. We’re not out to wag our finger and say don’t do it.”

The movie opens Dec. 25.

Bennett doesn’t fear backlash for skipping White House trip

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HOUSTON (AP) Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett says he is not worried about upsetting team owner Robert Kraft by not attending New England’s trip to the White House as Super Bowl champions.

Bennett said after the Patriots’ 34-28 win over the Falcons on Sunday night that he’s “not going to go” to the traditional meet-and-greet with the president. It will be the first visit of a Super Bowl champion to Washington since Donald Trump was sworn into office.

Trump’s positions have alienated some athletes, which has raised questions about whether some might choose to skip the trip while the new president is in office.

But Bennett said he isn’t concerned about it and thinks the team believes “in whatever I want to do.”

Kraft is a supporter of Trump and attended a celebration dinner in Washington for him the night before his inauguration.

Patriots’ Tom Brady earns 4th Super Bowl MVP trophy with epic comeback

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HOUSTON (AP) The greatest quarterback in NFL history led the biggest Super Bowl comeback to be the MVP on Sunday night.

Tom Brady rallied New England from a 25-point third-quarter deficit for a 34-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons in the first overtime game in Super Bowl history to earn his fifth Super Bowl title and fourth MVP trophy.

“They’re all sweet,” he said. “They’re all different and this was just an incredible team and I’m just happy to be a part of it,” he said.

Brady threw touchdown passes of 5 and 6 yards in the second half and tied things at 28-28 when he connected withDanny Amendola on a 2-point conversion with 57 seconds left.

He then directed the drive in overtime which ended with a 2-yard run by James White to make the Patriots the first team to win a Super Bowl after trailing by more than 10 points.

“We all brought each other back,” he said. “We never felt out of it. It was a tough battle.”

His performance certainly wasn’t without its struggles. His incredible second half and overtime came after a first half where the Patriots managed just three points and he threw an interception which Robert Alford returned 82 yards for a touchdown. He was hurried and harassed for much of the games. The Falcons sacked him five times and hit him on another eight occasions.

He noted the beating he took when he was trying to recount the details of the comeback and couldn’t remember what the score was at one point in the rally.

“There was a lot of (stuff) that happened tonight,” he said. “I got hit pretty hard.”

His 466 yards passing are a Super Bowl record, surpassing the 414 yards Kurt Warner had 17 years ago. He also set a record for most passes completed in a Super Bowl with 43 and most attempts with 62.

He is the first to play in seven Super Bowls and the victory ties him with Charles Haley for most Super Bowl rings.

After all Brady has done in his career, was this his finest moment?

“Tom’s had a lot of great ones,” coach Bill Belichick said. “But, yeah tonight was one of them.”

It’s a triumphant end to a difficult season for Brady, who missed the first four games because of his “Deflategate” suspension and dealt with his mother Galynn Brady suffering through an undisclosed illness. The Super Bowl was the first game she’s attended all season.

“They’re all happy,” he said fighting back tears. “It’s nice to have everybody here and it’s going to be a great celebration tonight.”

He shared a quick moment with her right after the game, but was looking forward to more time with her in the upcoming days.

“It’s kind of madness after the game so I didn’t get much quality time with her but we’ll get it this week,” he said.

But he certainly wasn’t asking for sympathy for his rough road to this title though, chuckling when someone asked about the adversity the Patriots have gone through in the past couple of years.

“We’ve done pretty good over the last few years … so I don’t think anyone’s feeling bad for the Patriots,” he said. “I don’t think anyone feels bad for the Patriots.”

Brady also collected the MVP trophy in 2001, 2003 and 2014.

“It was just a lot of mental toughness by our team and we’re going to remember this one for the rest of our lives,” Brady said.

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