Professors, Alumni Have Major Roles in Movie Storyline About NFL, Concussions

Issue Date: 
November 17, 2014

The storyline of a movie filming in Pittsburgh stems from the adaptation of a 2009 magazine article written by Pitt professor Jeanne Marie Laskas, director of the University of Pittsburgh’s creative writing program as well as an alumnus, an author, and correspondent for national magazines. 

Jeanne Marie Laskas

Written for GQ magazine, the article detailed former Pitt professor Bennet Omalu’s discovery of severe brain injuries in deceased National Football League players, including former Steeler center Mike “Iron Mike” Webster. Omalu (’04 GSPH) was a forensic neuropathologist in the Allegheny County Coroner’s Office when he discovered what he termed chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. 

Omalu, who will be played in the film by actor Will Smith, eventually found CTE in the brains of more than 15 other former National Football League players who had suffered numerous concussions on the field, and later, severe mental and emotional problems prior to their deaths. 

Omalu completed his fellowship training in forensic pathology and neuropathology at Pitt and went on to hold various professorial positions in pathology and epidemiology at Pitt from 2003 through 2012. His CTE research was informed by lab work conducted at the University. His findings were initially dismissed by the NFL, who said its NFL-employed doctors and researchers did not believe CTE existed or that numerous concussions could cause brain damage.

Following the publication of Laskas’ story, “Game Brain,” there were congressional debates, class action lawsuits filed by former players and their families, and an eventual change in policy and treatment for concussions by NFL teams and staff.

The movie has been filming in Pittsburgh, including the Hill District, and it will examine the story of Omalu’s discoveries and the debate about his findings within the world of professional football in America.