Will Smith isn’t the one who steals the show at the press conference for “Concussion,” the actor’s new football-themed drama. It’s Bennet Omalu, the man he played. Omalu is a pathologist from Nigeria who, while stationed in a Pittsburgh hospital, unearthed findings that many former NFL players were succumbing to CTE, a brain disease that causes dementia, even violence in its victims. The NFL was predictably reluctant to accept his research and battled him hard, almost destroying his career, and only came around in 2009.
Despite the hardships in the past, Omalu is a force of life. Smith sits there, quietly in awe, as Omalu rattles off long speeches, which sometimes sound like inspirational political chatter, interspersed with deafening childlike giggles. Here is some of what he said:
On seeing “Concussion” for the first time
Omalu watched it with his wife, Prema (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw), and was initially starstruck. “I just saw Will Smith playing me,” Omalu recalls. “But as the movie went on, five to 10 minutes later, I don’t know what happened to me, but it was like a transformation. I totally lost myself in the moment. I became oblivious to my environment. I was now embedded in what I was seeing on the screen. That’s a testament to the job he did. It made me yet again proud to be part of the American family. An immigrant hungers to be part of the story called America. This is what is to be American.”