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WWE Medical Director Dr. Joseph Maroon important character in Concussion movie

Will WWE Medical Director Dr. Joseph Maroon be portrayed as a heel in Concussion, the Will Smith film about the discovery of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in several NFL players who had committed suicide?

Arliss Howard, the actor picked to play WWE Medical Director Dr. Joseph Maroon in the film Concussion
Arliss Howard, the actor picked to play WWE Medical Director Dr. Joseph Maroon in the film Concussion
Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

In a story that has gone overlooked by the wrestling media so far, probably due to its inside baseball nature, WWE's Medical Director, Dr. Joseph Maroon, will gain a measure of fame (or should that be infamy?) later this year by being an important character in the film bluntly entitled Concussion about the discovery of the neurodegenerative disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in several NFL players who had committed suicide, like Mike Webster, Terry Long, Andre Waters and Dave Duerson.

The hero of the movie is Dr. Bennet Omalu, played by Hollywood box office heavyweight Will Smith, who was the forensic pathologist who discovered the disease, but quickly faced attempts by the NFL to discredit his research. To wrestling fans, he would be best known as the doctor who diagnosed CTE in the former WWE wrestlers Chris Benoit and Andrew "Test" Martin.

One of the roadblocks in Omalu's way was Maroon (played by Arliss Howard) in his roles as the Team Surgeon of the Pittsburgh Steelers and a consultant to the NFL, who led the chorus in disputing Omalu's groundbreaking research. In fact, Maroon went so far to attack Omalu's "fallacious reasoning" that he incredulously claimed that:

"I was the team neurosurgeon during Long's entire tenure with the Steelers, and I still am. I re-checked my records; there was not one cerebral concussion documented in him during those entire seven years."

His statement was quickly proven to be false when Omalu found in Long’s records a letter, written by Maroon himself, recommending that Long be given two weeks off following a concussion incident. Such a massive blunder hasn't stopped Maroon from continuing to controversially downplay the risks of head trauma from playing American football to this very day.

Indeed, in March this year he came under fire for arguing that the risk of CTE in contact sports has been over-exaggerated by the media and that playing youth football was safer than riding a bike or a skateboard.

Worse came in June when he appeared in Retraction Watch for unethically failing to fully disclose his competing interests (a big academic no no) in an article about CTE that was published in the online journal PLOS ONE. Here's what old Joe forgot to say:

"The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has received grants from the National Football League and the Pittsburgh Steelers.... He has been the team neurosurgeon for the Pittsburgh Steelers since 1981 and the medical director for World Wrestling Entertainment Corporation since 2008 for the management of spine and brain-related injury. He also has served on the National Football League's Head, Neck and Spine Committee since 2007 and is currently a consultant to the committee. Dr. Maroon is a founder and shareholder in ImPACT (Immediate Post Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing), and the WWE has partnered with ImPACT to provide concussion management. Dr. Maroon has served as an expert witness in medical legal cases involving concussions."

Thus, the film may not only prove to be embarrassing for the NFL, but also WWE, if it paints their Medical Director in an unflattering light and the mainstream media picks up on the connection.

The question is how embarrassing? Concussion has made the headlines this week after The New York Times claimed that leaked emails indicated that Sony Pictures had altered the film to prevent antagonising the NFL. One paragraph in the story particularly jumped out at me:

In other emails, Sony executives discussed how to make the movie appear less threatening. In several emails they said that press materials should note that Mr. Smith likes football and one of his sons played the game. In another email, Hannah Minghella, a top executive, suggested that "rather than portray the N.F.L. as one corrupt organization can we identify the individuals within the N.F.L. who were guilty of denying/covering up the truth."

If Sony takes the strategy of vilifying individuals rather than the NFL as a whole, then Maroon, along with "Doctor Yes" Elliot Pellman, would make for a rather convenient fall guy, which should be a source of concern for WWE.

It should be noted that Sony has responded by calling The NYT's story "misleading" and that critics will soon see that they had pulled no punches in Concussion:

"As will become immediately clear to anyone actually seeing the movie, nothing with regard to this important story has been 'softened' to placate anyone"

Not even WWE! Oh dear...

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