By now, it's widely established that football is a dangerous sport, causing elevated risks of brain injuries. But how about the impact of participating in football movies? According to Paramount Pictures, medical autopsies showing high rates of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy "pertain to professional football players playing professional football, not body doubles filming carefully choreographed football scenes for a movie."
The statement comes from Paramount on Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court in defense of a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Darryl Hammond, who played 15 years of arena football. Paramount's involvement in this suit (alongside the Arena Football League) is traced to Hammond's role as an extra in the 2005 film The Longest Yard, starring Adam Sandler and Chris Rock. Disney is a co-defendant, too, because Hammond was an extra in the 2006 film Invincible, starring Mark Wahlberg.
In response to a suit that alleges defendants should have known about peer-reviewed scientific studies showing the dangers of repeated traumatic head impacts and their toll on a player like Hammond who died in 2017 after suffering more than 200 concussions, Paramount seeks to escape negligence and fraud claims. The studio has filed a pair of motions — one aimed at striking the suit for interfering with its First Amendment activity, the second challenging whether Hammond's family has stated facts supporting a cause of action.
Paramount questions whether Hammond's family brought the suit within the statute of limitations given that the movie was made more than a decade ago, plus doubts whether the lawsuit can support any claim for punitive damages given a lack of cited behavior on its part rising to "oppression, fraud, or malice."
Less typically, Paramount targets the cited medical studies as lacking relevance to its moviemaking. The studio's lawyers write that the complaint fails to allege "any medical study showing movie body doubles who participate in scripted and choreographed football scenes are at an increased risk of developing CTE when compared to the general public," and as for those other studies about the dangers to football players generally, Paramount faults the complaint for omitting who conducted the studies, where and when they were published, and how Paramount should have known of these studies.
Before getting to discovery — and perhaps any query for medical records of Sandler, Wahlberg and other non-football professionals who played football for these movies — Paramount also has a point to make about what actually happens during the filming of a football movie. The court brief in support of dismissal argues that Hammond's family has blurred the differences between a professional football career and a limited role in a choreographed motion picture.
"In professional football games players make full body contact at full speed at varying angles during the entirety of the game," continues the court brief (read in full here). "By contrast, scripted and choreographed movie football scenes take place in a controlled environment, where no actual football game is played. The action is controlled to obtain the desired shots, correct lighting, correct camera angles, intended depiction of dialogue and movement, all to advance the plot of the movie. There was no 'real' football game in The Longest Yard's fictional football game between the prison guards and convicts.