Parkes/McDonald Productions takes up traumatic brain injury with ‘League Of Denial’

One of the most upsetting moments in Lucy Walker’s new documentary “The Crash Reel” features Kevin Pearce, a world-class snowboarder who was waylaid on his way to the Olympics by a traumatic brain injury, talking to his parents about how he plans to return to snowboarding. This is on the heels of two full years of therapy that have obviously not restored him to anything like peak condition. Pearce seems completely set on going back to competition, and nothing his parents say seems to be eating to him. He’s simply incapable of accepting the idea that his brain damage is permanent.

The subject of just how we’ve approached the health of players involved in full-contact sports is currently undergoing a culture-wide re-examination, and while sports fans might have to cope with some uncomfortable changes to the games that they love, it sounds like those changes have to happen.

Today, Parkes/McDonald Productions purchased the film rights to “League Of Denial,” which was already turned into a piercing documentary earlier this year that aired on “Frontline.” The book focuses on Mike Webster, a player for the Steelers, and Bennet Omalu, a doctor who studied Webster’s brain. It makes the NFL look horribly neglectful at the bare minimum, and potentially amoral in terms of how they covered up not just Webster’s case but over twenty years of evidence that they were seeing catastrophic damage to players that needed to be changed.

One of the things I didn’t understand until I saw Walker’s film and the Frontline documentary was just how much people lose when they have this kind of traumatic brain injury, and the impulse control problems that frequently occur lead the athletes to continue doing whatever it was that injured them in the first place, and it’s a horrible cycle. I have made some decisions about my own kids and which sports they can play, and even as I take football and hockey off the table, I know full well that these kinds of injuries can happen in all sorts of circumstances.

I’m curious to see how they dramatize this, and if they do it well, it could expand the conversation that’s already underway and hopefully lead to some very real reforms.

Here’s the press release:

LOS ANGELES, CA (December 6, 2013) – Parkes/MacDonald Productions has acquired the feature film and television rights to the highly sought after book “League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth,” written by ESPN reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada (co-author of baseball steroids scandal best-seller Game of Shadows) and Steve Fainaru (winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his series of Washington Post articles on private contractors in Iraq).

The book by the Fainaru brothers – which shines a light on the dangers of head injuries in football and the National Football League”s failure to protect its players – was the basis of a well-received investigative documentary for PBS” FRONTLINE earlier this year. With particular focus on former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster, “League of Denial” follows Bennet Omalu, the pathologist who examined Webster’s brain – revealing how the league, over a period of nearly two decades, sought to cover up and deny mounting evidence of the connection between football and brain damage.

Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald”s “League of Denial” will be produced under the Parkes+MacDonald/Image Nation banner, a partnership between the Santa Monica-based production house and the Abu Dhabi-based filmed entertainment company.

The partnership”s first picture, “I Am Malala,” a feature length documentary about Malala Yousafzai, started principal production in July with Oscar-winning director Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth). The partnership”s next film will be “The Fall Guy,” directed by McG and starting Dwayne Johnson; a July 14th start is anticipated.

Joe Veltre from Gersh represents the authors of the book, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru.

I’m also curious to see how “The Fall Guy” works out for them. The idea of Dwayne Johnson getting his own action-comedy franchise where he gets to play a stuntman is sort of irresistible to me.