New York, NY – America’s most popular entertainment sources come together in dramatic fashion Christmas day. As the National Football League (NFL) football faces perhaps its biggest crisis, Hollywood is telling that story in the new film, “Concussion.”
Will Smith portrays Dr. Bennett Omalu, whose faith fueled his courage in a “David and Goliath” battle.
Dr. Omalu discovered the potentially deadly dangers of repeated blows to the head, and he began sounding an alarm to the NFL more than 10 years ago.
“You need to mitigate your risk,” Omalu said, as he entered the Hollywood premiere of the film on his life. “Every blow you receive could cause damage. With or without a helmet, with or without concussions, repeated blows of your head has a risk of causing permanent brain damage.”
Dr. Omalu discovered the brain disease he named Chronic Traumatic Encephalopothy, or CTE. It’s often found in athletes who play contact sports and can lead to memory loss, depression and even death.
Hall of famer Frank Gifford, who died in August, is the latest player whose autopsy revealed he suffered from CTE.
The NFL is at work to improve the safety of the game, but for a time Dr. Omalu was on a collision course with professional football.
Who is Dr. Omalu?
Will Smith sat down with CBN News to discuss playing Dr. Bennet Omalu.
“Dr. Omalu is a really interesting, paradoxical creature, you know,” Smith said. “He is a man of science, firmly. But he is also one of the most spiritually, religiously based people I have ever met in my life. Everything in his life is about God, yet he is a scientist.”
“It was beautiful to spend time with him and watch how he blended those two concepts in his life,” he added.
Bennett Omalu was born into a poor family in the jungles of Nigeria. He immigrated to America, earned eight degrees and became a forensic pathologist in Pittsburgh.
Omalu’s discovery began with his autopsy on “Iron” Mike Webster, a Pittsburgh Steelers legend who died at just 50-years-old.
“I had only heard, like many people, about a famous football player, who had played for a long time in the NFL, who was living in his truck, who had sold his Super Bowl rings and who died, homeless and penniless,” Morse said.
Although Morse played the role of Mike Webster, it was Omalu’s story that appealed to him most.
“Part of the beauty of Bennet’s story is that it does have mythological and biblical proportions to it,” Smith said. “It’s David and Goliath, but it played out in real life.”
Will Smith is football fan, and his oldest son played the game.
“It was less about taking on the NFL,” he said. “I didn’t see this film as taking on the NFL. I saw how someone could see it that way. But to me it was much more about delivering the truth. It was much more about telling Dr. Omalu’s story.”
Love and Football
This is not just a film about football and concussions. There is also a love story.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays Omalu’s wife, Prema.
“It really is a beautiful, old fashioned love story and somewhat unconventional in many ways,” Mbatha-Raw said. “They meet in the church and are drawn together through their faith. But also through the fact that they are foreigners in America.”
“And so it really is that bond of these two outsiders, sort of aspiring for the American dream,” she added.
Dr. Omalu made it official this year by becoming an American citizen.
“You walk out of that movie you will be very proud and glad that you are an American, a place where you are allowed to experimented with my faith and science and look what turned out,” Omalu said.
In his native tongue, Dr. Omalu’s name means “He who knows must step forward and speak.”
Omalu’s courage to “step forward and speak” inspired Will Smith.
“As as an actor, I have been blessed to play characters who are deeply centered on service and contribution,” Smith said. “And when I play characters like this, it feels good to wear that. It feels good to me when I wear the life of a person who is committed to others. So, that good feeling is a signal to me that there is a deeper calling for me and in the Will blueprint that heaven created, I think there more than just being an actor. I think there is a higher contribution that I can and I will make.”