Head Games: Athletes Face Brain Injuries

While Head Games does feature a number of articulate and consistently intelligent talking-head interviews, it's ultimately not a satisfying advocacy doc. Former football player Christopher Nowinski leads a crusade to inform football, hockey, and soccer players of all ages of the high risk they run of suffering chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurological disease caused by concussion. Nowinski himself is nothing if not a convincing advocate. After seeing him smoothly transition from his personal concern with CTE to statistics and rhetorical questions, one can't help but agree with New York Times journalist Alan Schwarz, who aptly commends Nowinski during one interview segment for having "[done] his homework." But Head Games' creators never rigorously investigate what specific common social and/or professional behaviors can be curbed in order to reduce what Bob Costas calls a "level of acceptable risk" of suffering CTE. Nowinski and director Steve James ignore the key question that their detractors always raise: How does one practically apply the knowledge that an alarmingly high number of athletes routinely and unwittingly suffer brain damage? The violence inherent in football and hockey makes that difficult to answer. Instead, the two make it their mission to focus on anecdotal evidence of athletes who suffer and live with head trauma, which makes it that much harder to either completely get behind Nowinski or tsk-tsk the sports and health officials who were unable to quell such a largely undefined general problem. MICHAEL NORDINE

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