By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The director of football head trauma film "Concussion" says the beloved American sport may already be in the early stages of "a seismic shift" as parents are dissuaded from letting their children play football amid safety concerns.
"Concussion," out in U.S. theaters on Christmas Day, stars Will Smith as Nigerian forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu, who uncovered the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in former Pittsburgh football players that died sudden and tragic deaths.
The Sony Pictures film, garnering awards buzz especially for Smith's performance, comes at a time where head trauma is a hot button topic in the multi-million dollar NFL industry.
A change could be taking place at a grassroots level, however, as writer-director Peter Landesman said the numbers for Pop Warner football, a children's football league, are "down as much as 35 percent."
"Those elite athletes at six, seven years old are not playing football; they're wrestling, they're running, they're playing lacrosse," he said.
"Those kids will not show up in the NFL, that number is only going to get bigger. (There's a) seismic change coming for the sport," he added.
The director said the film is meant to give audiences information so that they can make up their own minds about the safety of the sport.
"I would never tell another parent or another teenager or adult what to do," he said. "The film embraces what a conflicting problem this is."
"Concussion" explores Omalu's perseverance to make his CTE research known to the NFL, but the corporation, portrayed as a faceless, and at times, manipulative Goliath, tries to quash his findings - details that Landesman said he uncovered through his own sources at the organization.
"I think that the film is a powerful indictment," he said, adding that "the movie's also an expose" of the NFL's early cover-ups of CTE research.
Sony this week said it will offer all NFL team owners, players and their families free entry to screenings of "Concussion."
While the NFL did not respond for comment on the screenings, the organization has previously said regarding the movie, "We welcome any conversation about player health and safety."
"I think the NFL is doing everything they can do on this issue," Landesman said. "They have concussion protocols and they let players talk about it. I think the problem is there's a very limited range of things they can actually do."
(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Sandra Maler)