PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The movie is an indictment of the NFL, focusing on the Pittsburgh Steelers and taking particular aim at their team neurologist Dr. Joseph Maroon.
Maroon is portrayed in the movie as an obstructionist to the research of Dr. Bennet Omalu, who is portrayed by actor Will Smith, whose autopsies found that Steelers like Mike Webster, Terry Long and Justin Strzelczyk died from dementia caused by concussive blows sustained in their playing days.
In a pivotal scene, Omalu and Maroon knock heads.
“If you continue to deny my work, the world will deny my work. But men, your men, will continue to die,” Omalu pleads.
The third man in the scene, portrayed by actor Alec Baldwin, is Dr. Julian Bailes, a former Steelers doctor who first embraced Omalu’s research.
But Bailes, who admires most of the film, concedes that the portrayal of Maroon is not fair.
He says that the scene takes liberties with what was a series of meetings, and he says that, in fact, Maroon would be the first to bring it to the league.
“It’s what Hollywood does sometimes. So it was unfair to give the impression that he was not ultimately part of the solution. Perhaps Bennet Omalu and I saw it little bit sooner, but he was not obstructing, and he in fact in the end helping us to bring it forward and bring it to the NFL,” Bailes said.
Reached by phone last week, Maroon declined to comment on the movie. Former Steeler Merril Hoge had even harsher words for the film.
“And to depict him [Maroon] like that, is the biggest travesty I have ever seen. This is one of the greatest minds in this world,” Hoge said.
Hoge notes that the Steelers, under Maroon, were the first NFL team to do cognitive baseline testing of its players starting back in 1991.
Players who suffered concussions were not permitted to play until they could match or exceed their baseline short-term memory and comprehension levels.
When Hoge was traded to the Chicago Bears, he suffered back-to-back concussions but returned to Pittsburgh to see Maroon, who tested him against the baseline and ordered him to retire.
“He said, ‘I’ve seen guys get thrown through a car windshield better off than you.’ And this is two weeks removed. He said, ‘I cannot put my head down at night and allow you go back and play, Merril. I can’t let you play,’” Hoge said.
Hoge says the death of Webster, Strzelczyk and Long caused Maroon to not only accept Omalu’s research but become a champion of it.
“The guy who drove that to the NFL, was the catalyst to really get it to the NFL and paint the picture for them was Joe Maroon. Was that in the movie? No,” said Hoge. “They’ve got to create a villain.”