'Concussion' director denies film was changed to avoid antagonizing NFL

The director of a forthcoming drama about the health risks current and former football players face due to head trauma denied a report late Tuesday that the film was altered to avoid incurring the wrath of the National Football League.

The New York Times, citing hacked emails from Sony Pictures, reported Tuesday that Sony executives, director Peter Landesman, and representatives for the movie's star, Will Smith, discussed changing both the film's script and the way it was marketed.

The Times reported that one e-mail, dated Aug. 1, 2014, said some "unflattering moments for the NFL" were either altered or deleted from the movie altogether. Another letter from two days earlier said that a Sony lawyer had taken "most of the bite" out of the movie "for legal reasons with the NFL ... it was not a balance issue." A month later, the Times reported that Landesman had attempted to reach out to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for a meeting, an idea that was later squashed by Sony executives.

Landesman, whose only previous directing credit was the 2013 drama "Parkland", disputed the report in a statement to the Associated Press. He called his film, in which Smith plays the forensic pathologist Bennet Omalu who discovered that chronic brain damage factored in the deaths of NFL players, "a David and Goliath story."

"We always intended to make an entertaining, hard-hitting film about Dr. Omalu's David-and-Goliath story, which played out like a Hollywood thriller," said Landesman. "Anyone who sees the movie will know that it never once compromises the integrity and the power of the real story."

"Concussion" opens in the U.S. on Christmas Day, but the film's trailer debuted online Monday. The movie was already seen as an enormous public relations threat to the NFL, one that will land in theaters near the climax of its upcoming season.

The NFL has a long history of aggressively protecting its image, especially in dealings with broadcast partner ESPN. In 2004, the league complained to the head of the Walt Disney Company about ESPN's original series "Playmakers", which featured an unflattering portrayal of a fictional pro football team. The series was canceled after one season.

In 2013, the NFL again complained to ESPN about "League of Denial," a documentary the sports network had produced with the PBS show "Frontline" about the league's response to the dangers of head trauma. The documentary, which featured the real-life Dr. Omalu, was shown by "Frontline" that October.

In a statement Monday after the film's trailer was released, Jeff Miller, NFL senior vice president of health and safety policy, said the league is "encouraged by the ongoing focus" on player safety.

"We all know more about this issue than we did 10 or 20 years ago," said Miller. "As we continue to learn more, we apply those learnings to make our game and players safer."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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