Out of print for more than 30 years, now available for the first time as an eBook, this is the controversial story of John Wooden's first 25 years and first 8 NCAA Championships as UCLA Head Basketball Coach. This is the only book that gives a true picture of the character of John Wooden and the influence of his assistant, Jerry Norman, whose contributions Wooden  ignored and tried to bury.

Compiled with more than 40 hours of interviews with Coach Wooden, learn about the man behind the coach. The players tell their stories in their own words.

Click the book to read the first chapter and for ordering information. Also available on Kindle.

Concussion (3/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 120 minutes.

OK for children.

Maybe this started out with good intentions. But in the end, this is a movie that avoids the serious problem of the outrageous attitude of the NFL towards concussions. The reason for this is explained later in this review.

I thought it was going to be an indictment of the NFL for its callous attitude towards injuries, in general, and concussions, in particular, and how it fought tooth and nail to avoid liability for all the players who suffered, and continue to suffer, from brain damage.

Instead it’s mostly a biopic about Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) with a shout out to his wife, Prema Mutiso (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). Although the film doesn’t show it (this is secular Hollywood, after all), Omalu is a devout practicing Catholic. It shows him to be a good man who fell into the study of brain injuries in the NFL after performing an autopsy on former Pittsburgh Steeler player Mike Webster (David Morse). He wrote a paper that named the disease he discovered as a result of the Webster autopsy CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). But it takes 30 minutes to get to the point where he met Webster’s cadaver, which tells you something about the snail-like pace of this film.

While the film touches (barely) on the problems Dr. Omalu had with the uncooperative and uncaring NFL, led by Commissioners Paul Tagliabue (Dan Ziskie) and Roger Goodell (Luke Wilson), it skims on the brain-crushing injuries caused in every football game played. And it seems to devote more time to the opposition he had from colleagues, especially Daniel Sullivan (Mike O’Malley) who seems really stoked about the fact that Dr. Omalu takes his cadavers so seriously, than his troubles with the NFL.

More than 90% of the film is the story of Dr. Omalu. The film was written and directed by Peter Landesman, a director with meager experience, and who apparently knows virtually nothing about pace and action. This is so slow it seems much longer than its two hours, which is astonishing in itself given that action director Ridley Scott (Black Hawk Down) is a producer. I don’t know how Scott could have sat still without demanding better pace (or at least some pace; this thing crawls).

While Smith does a good job affecting a Nigerian accent and Dr. Omalu’s soft, appealing personality, acting honors go to Albert Brooks who plays Omalu’s boss, Dr. Cyril Wecht. Brooks brings a unique touch to the film. God knows how one could get through it without him in the cast.

The NFL needn’t worry much about this film not only because it takes pains not to lay a glove on them (see below), but because it is so unentertaining.

Maybe the reason the film is so uninvolving is explained by an item in The New York Times which reported that both the script and the marketing were changed to avoid clashes with the NFL. It said that the Sony Pictures email hacking earlier in the year revealed several emails that said some “unflattering moments for the NFL” were deleted or changed and another indicated that a Sony lawyer took “most of the bite” out of the movie “for legal reasons with the NFL.”

The result is a slow, boring movie whose promotional efforts lead one to believe that it’s all about how a rotten organization (the NFL) refuses to accept its responsibility to its players. But it isn’t. It’s about a medical doctor who discovered the disease.

At one point in the movie, Dr. Omalu says, “God did not make us to play football.” Maybe someday someone not susceptible to pressure from the NFL will further that cause by having the courage to make a film on a subject that needs much more exposure, to wit, how the NFL has fought tooth and nail against accepting responsibility for the CTE caused by its players playing football. That’s the big story that needs to be told in detail, not the story of the doctor who discovered it.

The sad thing is that if they had possessed the courage to take on the NFL they could have told both stories.