Head Games | Movie review
The director of Hoop Dreams looks at the devastating effects of concussions in contact sports.
More of a specialty item than one might expect from Steve James, the Oak Park–based director of doc epics Hoop Dreams and The Interrupters, Head Games should nevertheless be mandatory viewing for athletes of all ages. Taking off from former Harvard tackle and WWE wrestler Christopher Nowinski’s book of the same title, the film examines the epidemic of undiagnosed concussions in contact sports. The bottom line is, if you have a head injury, sit the game out and get examined by a doctor, stat. Too many athletes go right back in, fearful of looking weak, unaware of what a concussion is or of how damaging even seemingly minor head injuries can be. Amid countless clips of cranial crunching, Head Games devotes much of its time to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a neurological degenerative disease alarmingly prevalent among players. Symptoms include memory loss and personality changes—which, the film persuasively argues, can even lead to suicide.
Meanwhile, the athletic-industrial complex turns a blind eye to the problem, eager to keep its rosters filled. (Nowinski points out that if concussions were treated properly, it would be impossible to maintain a football team.) James concludes on what’s meant to be an optimistic note, with talking heads weighing the enormous risks of athletics against the enjoyment their children get from hockey. No one could be so cavalier after seeing the film, however; you’ll feel like you need a helmet in the theater.