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Head Games
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Directed By
Steve James

Head Games (2012)
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Movie Review by Mike Thomas
November 22nd, 2012

Think of the Children

Favorite Movie Quote: "It's not a concussion; it's just part of the game."

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE: a progressive degenerative disease, diagnosed postmortem in individuals with a history of multiple concussions and other forms of head injury. Or, to put it in layman's terms - blurred vision, memory lapses, headaches, blackouts, suicide, death.

"How much of are you willing to lose for a game?" is the tagline for HEAD GAMES.

HEAD GAMES, a documentary based on the novel by former Ivy League Football Player and former WWE Wrestler Christopher Nowinski, is a stark, unflinching examination of contact sports and the self-inflicted injuries the participants not only take as "part of the game," but an expected factor in the fan appreciation experience. The film follows a pee-wee football team, a high school varsity team, a female soccer team, a high school hockey team, the NHL, and the NFL themselves. The science may come off as a little dry, but when it's contrasted against the people it affects, it truly becomes a horror story.

Nowinski acts as narrator, participant, and victim, albeit one of the lucky ones that survived two of the most brutal sports: the full-contact ordeal of professional football and world of staged professional wrestling, where the action may be skillfully choreographed, but the toll on their bodies can be all too-fatally real.
Nowinski follows the action - or inaction - of all these factions, from pee-wee football to the NFL, where CTE is regarded anywhere from begrudging acceptance to out-and-out defiance, bluffing, quite ineffectively to shut down all contact sports. But even faced with all the facts, everyone, even a pediatrician whose son is on a high school hockey team, cannot bring themselves to denounce the sports they and their families love - to death. So ingrained in the human psyche to be the football hero or the soccer star, that it is difficult to separate the glory from the lifetime consequences - however short it may be. The film has a more personal connection for this reviewer, as most of the reference material is based in my hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where Philadelphia Flyers player Keith Primeau and Philadelphia Eagles' Defensive Back and tragic suicide victim, Andre Waters are featured.

On my personal rating scale of with "5" being drop everything and see the movie now; if you're female, bear the producers' children and "0" being burn down the theater, murder the movie staff, and violate their dog, this movie earns a "5," based on the content and the importance of the material. "How much of are you willing to lose for a game?" HEAD GAMES should be required viewing for every youth sporting team; it it too late for the professionals, their only hope is rehabilitation, if there is any, and counseling. But HEAD GAMES should be a cautionary tale for kids who idolize these "gladiators" who abuse their bodies on a weekly basis, never knowing what happens after they leave the field.

In the epilogue, this reviewer refers is a recent episode of the animated series "South Park," where the game of "Sarcastiball" was invented to remove all violence from the sport of pee-wee football, turning the game into a total farce. However, the question no one answers in this film is: what is the solution for kids who need healthy competition to keep them out of trouble and learn discipline, and the physical consequences it will inevitably incur.

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