Concussion director denies appeasing NFL and accuses New York Times of hatchet job

Peter Landesman has accused the newspaper of working for the sports conglomerate

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The director of Concussion has vehemently denied allegations that he “softened” some criticisms of America’s National Football League (NFL) in the true story film in order to avoid antagonising the multibillion-dollar sports conglomerate.

Claims that Peter Landesman, who both wrote and directed the film starring Will Smith, edited the script and removed one scene in order to avoid a defamation challenge by the NFL, appeared in the New York Times on Tuesday, citing evidence from emails unearthed by the Sony hack.

The newspaper claims to have seen leaked correspondence between Landesman and representatives for Smith allegedly discussing how to avoid upsetting the NFL by toning down condemnation of the sporting enterprise and marketing the film more as a whistleblower story.

The claims reportedly relate to the NFL’s alleged efforts to cover up the connection between a condition called C.T.E (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) and the sport. C.T. E is a progressive degenerative disease occurring in individuals who have suffered repeated concussions.

But Landesman has spoken out to deny all the allegations made in the New York Times and has responded by accusing the newspaper of “working for the NFL”.


“These emails were taken out of context in a year-plus creative process that’s a constant negotiation," Landesman said, adding he had “zero discourse” with the NFL about the film prior to completion.

“It does seem to me like the New York Times is working for the NFL,” he told Deadline. “That’s how it seems to me. It seems like a hatchet job has been done here, and came out of the NFL’s offices, that’s how it seems to me.”

He denied that NFL’s reaction to the film was in any way a consideration to how the script changed during production and said the movie pulled no punches.

“I did nothing at the behest of the NFL, for the NFL, against the NFL,” Landesman said. “When I was writing and shooting the movie, the NFL wasn’t a single consideration, in any regard. Whether it was the portrayal of a character, or the story.

“I had a very strong background in journalism, so it’s my instinct to try to be as fair and accurate as possible. We had scenes, dialogue [in the first draft of the script] coming out of the mouths of characters that simply didn’t happen. As a former journalist and now a film-maker telling a story of this importance that has entered the zeitgeist in such a profound way, I wanted to simply tell a story in the most incisive and fair way possible.”


The first trailer for the film, which is expected to be a contender for the 2016 awards season, appeared online on Monday prompting a storm of debate over its credibility. Those behind the film, which stars Smith as Nigerian scientist Bennet Omulu whose work helped diagnose disease C.T. E, will be anxious to shake off negative press in the run up to next year’s Oscars.

Yesterday The Hollywood Reporter published a scene it claimed had been edited out of Concussion due to concerns over defamation.

The allegedly axed scene involves NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (Luke Wilson) and appears to implicate him in a cover up of the link between football and the brain disease.

Landesman says the scene, which was based on a second-hand account, was cut from the shooting script because he "didn't want to be defamatory.”

An extract from an email published by the New York Times allegedly between Dwight Caines, the president of domestic marketing at Sony Pictures, and Landesman, reads: “Will [Smith] is not anti football (nor is the movie) and isn’t planning to be a spokesman for what football should be or shouldn’t be but rather is an actor taking on an exciting challenge.”

He added: “We’ll develop messaging with the help of NFL consultant to ensure that we are telling a dramatic story and not kicking the hornet’s nest.”

Another email, published on 30 July 2014, allegedly contains the claim that “some unflattering moments for the NFL” were deleted or changed and a top Sony lawyer is said to have “taken most of the bite out of the film for legal reasons with the NFL”.

Sony and the New York Times have yet to comment on Landesman’s comments.

Concussion is released in cinemas on Christmas Day.