Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Available today on-demand is Head Games, a documentary that focuses its attention on sports-related injuries as it pertains to long-term health. It is not ground-breaking to argue that high-impact sports such as football, hockey or lacrosse could lead to brain injury - every athlete knows that there are inherent risks associated with their chosen sport. But Head Games offers a few fresh angles to consider that may frustrate the avid sports fan.
Why is that? Well, "denial" isn't just a river in Egypt. Society often turns a blind eye to the violence and consequences that continue to be a crucial part of big-business entities such as NFL football. Despite growing evidence - the film mentions a study showing that a pro NFL athlete is nearly 20 times as likely to suffer from dementia - most sports fans conveniently choose to pretend that these issues are not there. For the families and friends of pro athletes with mental conditions stemming from repeated blows to the head over the course of their careers, it is a bit harder to swallow.
The documentary follows the careers of several pro athletes beginning with college football star and former pro wrestler Chris Nowinski (his book, "Head Games: Football's Concussion Crisis" is a basis for this film), who is now considered a concussion expert and trailblazer in the field. It covers many NFL athletes who were driven to depression and suicide, all showing signs of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), the condition that is considered to be the result of head injury. The film then jumps over to pro hockey and the story of Keith Primeau, an athlete with several documented cases of concussion. It then shifts into the world of female soccer.
Each of these tales are compelling enough, all of which tend to point blame at the institutions of their particular sport. The NFL, for example, is compared to the big tobacco companies in their ability to "play dumb" as to the dangers of their product. On the flip side, however, the film points out continuously that athletes willingly accept the dangers of their specific sport.
While none of this may seem to be new information, there are a lot of innovative points made in the film, especially on the topic of child athletes. Told via an anecdotal story of a high school athlete who commits suicide (his brain showed signs of CTE), Head Games suggests that these injuries may be occurring in athletes well before they reach the pro level. Keith Primeau in fact, knows the damage his mind and body have suffered, yet he coaches his son and allows him the same exposure to the sport.
Not meant to point blame or necessarily suggest answers, Head Games drives the viewer to think. It is a lazy, irresponsible and uncomfortable reaction, to consider the points raised in this film and then to knowingly carry on as if nothing has changed. Head Games isn't saying we should abolish all sports that may lead to injury, but it does a great job at pointing out the fact that we all may, indeed, be OK with it. The need for sport is a human condition that seems to be more important than life itself.
Run Time: 1 hours 35 minutes, Rated PG-13
Featuring: Chris Nowinski, Bob Costas, Keith Primeau
Directed by Steve James (The Interrupters, Reel Paradise)
Now available on VOD (Video On-Demand).
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