Earlier this year, the New York Times’ Ken Belson claimed that Sony Pictures had ordered revisions to the upcoming Will Smith star vehicle, “Concussion” to appease the brain-injury merchants at the NFL. Writing for Deadline.com, Mark Fleming Jr. takes exception to Belson’s version of events while reporting the Times recently scrapped an Arts & Leisure section piece on “Concussion”, instead greenlighting more critical coverage in the sports section by Belson.
It isn’t immediately clear whether the Arts section writers who cover Hollywood as their beats were called off the story or bailed after the Sports department won a turf battle to make a second critical story the newspaper’s priority. A NYT spokeswoman said, “We don’t comment on what may or may not appear in future editions of The Times.” Sony also declined comment. I’m told this has created internal rancor within the newspaper and it raises the question of why Belson and the sports section seem so bent on discrediting a film when its first article was misguided. Concussion director Peter Landesman told Deadline on the day that first story ran that neither he nor the studio had any exchanges with the league and that any scenes cut were done so because they couldn’t be independently corroborated. What is depicted onscreen is factually accurate, he said, an assertion that might come under new scrutiny with the planned NYT piece.
Curious in all this are the underlying ties between the newspaper, the Concussion story line, and Landesman. Landesman became a screenwriter after selling screen rights to several articles he wrote for NYT Magazine, where he worked before he became a director. Many of the revelations shown in Concussion were unearthed in NYT stories written by Alan Schwarz in over 100 early stories on football concussions and CTE, many of which originated in the Sports section. While NYT isn’t involved, Schwarz sold those story rights to a rival project at New Regency, one that has 8 Mile and The Fighter scribe Scott Silver and Gone Girl and Social Network helmer David Fincher at its center, along with rights to participants in the story who didn’t align with Concussion. Beaten to the screen by Concussion, the other project is moving full-speed ahead as a miniseries that will tell a longer story about the still-evolving subject of football concussions, how the NFL is handling it, and the long-term effect on players.