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‘Concussion’ movie already has been compromised

Will Smith stars in the movie "Concussion," the true story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, who discovered that repeated head blows from playing football can cause dementia and death. | Sony Pictures

Hollywood follows the real world, in an odd way.

The movies that get made in the big studios shorten, glorify, inflate, deflate, edit and falsify the events they claim to portray.

They look to entertain more than inform because, after all, we don’t go to theaters to get bored under the seats.

Who really knows what ‘‘Based on a true story’’ means once a producer, director and writer get their hands on the tale?

So it is with the forthcoming movie ‘‘Concussion,’’ based on the early days of the scientific discovery that repeated head blows from playing football can cause dementia and death.

Movie superstar Will Smith portrays Bennet Omalu, the then-Pittsburgh-based forensic pathologist who first discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in the brains of deceased NFL players Mike Webster, Andre Waters and others. From there, Omalu became a key, if unintentional, figure in the head-trauma issue that dogs us today.

Primarily, the problems are these: Should young men bang their heads in football knowing the danger that might await them down the road? Should parents let their boys play the game?

And this: Does the NFL, as well as college, high school and Pee-Wee football, have an obligation to either make the game safe or cease to exist?

We are not just talking cultural change here; we are talking about billions of dollars worth of entertainment and TV revenue. Consider that in 2014, six NCAA schools averaged more than 100,000 fans per home game, and 19 averaged more than 75,000. That’s a lot of ticket and hot-dog money.

So, naturally, Omalu and his work were marginalized, ridiculed and attacked. Particularly by the NFL. Its $8 billion-a-year industry does not take kindly to criticism.

‘‘They insinuated that I was not practicing medicine,’’ said Omalu, a native of Nigeria. ‘‘I was practicing voodoo.’’

There are two types of whistle-blowers in this world — the knowing and the unwitting. Omalu was the latter.

When I spoke with him several years ago, he told me he was certain much of the censorship and dismissal of his work came about because he was from Africa, because he was an outsider, because he was black and because his accent was so thick.

I said, ‘‘Really?” I found this hard to believe.

But research showed me that what Omalu said was undoubtedly true. The NFL, like all monoliths, would go after a whistle-blower’s weakest link first. That’s how it’s done.

And it’s not over yet because the concussion issue still hovers above the game like a moving fog.

According to an article Wednesday in the New York Times, ‘‘Concussion’’ makers Sony Pictures Entertainment has, whether for legal or conciliatory purposes or out of fear of retaliation, ‘‘found itself softening some points it might have made against the multibillion-dollar sports enterprise that controls the nation’s most-watched game.’’

The truth? Unlikely from this movie.

As the Times report stated, ‘‘The NFL had previously pressured business partners to step back from issues that are potentially embarrassing to it.’’

Omalu’s character will be dramatized, for sure. And his fears, shock and incredulity at his censorship for simply doing what a good scientist should do will make for terrific possibilities for Smith.

But the truth is, huge companies, such as the NFL, always will protect themselves from attacks, no matter the facts. It might blow people’s minds to find out near-saint Steve Jobs was as ruthless and deceptive at cheery Apple as any corporate chief. But he was. And so it goes.

We’ll have to wait and see if ‘‘Concussion’’ takes risks. Bennet Omalu already took his.

Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.

Email: rtelander@suntimes.com