February 21, 2018

“Bell Rung” a Powerful Documentary: Concussions & Life When the Game’s Over

Sportswriter Helen Bohanna with Karon Cook

The historic Plaza Theatre in Atlanta which opened in 1939, the year Gone with the Wind premiered, was the perfect venue for Dorsey Levens’ epic film Bell Rung.  Levens played his college ball at Notre Dame and Georgia Tech and spent 10 Seasons in the NFL (named All-Pro in ’97).  The title Bell Rung comes from a term used in football circles to describe the violent, jarring of the brain.

Dorsey and I had the chance to chat prior to the screening, I told him how I’d been traveling the country over the past several months and talking about kids playing football, safety concerns of parents, concussions and the Former NFL Players Brain Injury Lawsuit.  Over 50% didn’t know that much about the case; 90% of the people I spoke with (men and women) felt the legal action was more about the MONEY rather than player safety (more on that later).

I felt the film was honest, the way it was shot…the feel of it…the tone: all true. The former NFL players that appeared in the film, simply related what happened to them, how they were treated and what they are living with now.

I reached out to former Ravens All-Pro Running Back, Jamal Lewis who was in the Documentary. I received this tweet on August 14

“@Jamal31Lewis  It was a pleasure doing this interview because I felt that it would reach our youth, and make them aware of concussions and it’s symptoms”.

When I think of all of the years I’ve watched my Steelers, how many hours of joy and excitement that these guys have brought me…what is that WORTH?   Every week we watch our teams on the field, witness the explosive and destructive hits that they endure.  Now with this film, we are getting a glimpse of what it’s really like after the applause stops and all that’s left is pain.  As a young girl I recall seeing my Dad knocked down, wondering if he would get up…he played QB for the U.S. Marines (back in the day) and Marines don’t just go on the field to play football; they want to knock the hell out of each other.

Bell Rung also gave us another point of view—the female side. Monique Hobbs described in detail how she felt when her husband (former Philadelphia Eagles cornerback, Ellis Hobbs) had to be carried off the field with a career ending, partially paralyzing neck injury.  You could see the hurt in her eyes.  As a woman, I could sense that she felt helpless to change what had been put in front of her.

After the film ended, there was an Open Panel discussion. On the Panel:

Mike Cheever ~ Jacksonville Jaguars

Wayne Gandy ~ Rams, Steelers, Saints & Falcons

Ryan Stewart ~ Detroit Lions

LaMar Campbell ~ Detroit Lions

The Panel took random questions from the audience (of over 200 people).  One of the first:

Q. Why can’t they make helmets safer? 

LaMar Campbell’s answer:  “….they have agreements and contracts with certain companies, so while all of these new companies may come up with great ideas to help prevent concussions, there’s a lot of red tape they have to go through to get those implemented.  Even in High School they’re having problems implementing them in certain counties for kids as well…hopefully the light will come on, we’re looking at a lot of lawsuits now with high school players….so I guess we all hope that it will filter from the NFL (a billion dollar business) down to the younger level.  I just think most of those Companies now are just trying to break in and help prevent concussions any way they can.”

I had the opportunity to ask the same question to Dr. Steven D. Novicky: “We believe we have at Shockstrip.  Our external helmet device has been both independently lab and field tested and shown to reduce the probability of a concussion up to 34%, amongst other positive results.  Our State of the Art material and design was the key to our success.”

About the MONEY—in the film Moneyball, a 2011 movie about the Oakland A’s baseball team, Peter Brand and Billy Beane are discussing why he (Billy) is making a certain decision—Peter says: “You’re not doing it for the money.”  Billy: “I’m not?”  Peter: “No, you’re doing it for what the money says.  And it says what it says to any player that makes big money, that they’re worth it.”

I’m asking you, dear reader: These men, the subject of this heroic film—they are brothers, sons, fathers, husbands and our friends.  Are THEY WORTH being evaluated and taken care of, being monitored, receiving support and having a secure future for themselves and their families?  Are they?

Dorsey is heading to NYC in September to screen this extraordinary documentary in the Big Apple.  I’m certain we’ll be hearing more about this, as I’m “on the case.”


Block for somebody today.  If you can make someone else’s life a little easier…do it!


Bubba Smith

Bubba Smith passed away last week and joined his teammate John Mackey in the great Super Bowl in the sky. His playing days were a bit before my time. I mainly remember him from Miller Lite ads. I forget if he was part of the “Tastes Great” or the “Less Filling” camp, but he’d rip the cans open.

Joe Williams here calls me Mr. Connection. I caught the bug when my buddy, the White Rhino, turned me on to the Kevin Bacon game. That’s where you name an actor and try to link him to Bacon in the fewest steps. I came up with the ultimate Kevin Bacon game earlier this year; The Diner at The Center of The Universe. It transcends the screen. Bacon played Fenwick in Diner. Barry Levinson directed it and two of the other cast members were Mickey Rourke and Ellen Barkin. Bacon’s father, Edmund, was a city planner who knew Buckminster Fuller. Levinson once roomed with Boston George Jung. Jung was a drug smuggler and was played by Johnny Depp in the movie Blow. Rourke tried his fists at boxing. Freddie Roach trained him for some of his fights. Roach now trains Manny Pacquiao. Barkin was married to Ron Perelman for a while. Perelman was a buyout artist who purchased Revlon with the help of Michael Milken’s junk bonds (or high yield, if you prefer.) The worlds of genius, cocaine, boxing, and Wall Street are all within two degrees of separation from Bacon. But one connection didn’t occur to me until last week.

The movie Diner is about young men growing up in Baltimore fifty-some years ago. One of the gang, Eddie Simmons, is getting married. Before he ties the knot, though, he wants to ensure that his bride to be has a firm grasp on Colts trivia. He makes her take a 140-question test on the team. Steve Guttenberg played Simmons. Guttenberg would go on to the Police Academy movies where he’d play Carey Mahoney. Bubba Smith played Moses Hightower in those flicks.

Smith, of course was a Baltimore Colt. He played with Johnny Unitas. Unitas had a long career and he quarterbacked the team in the famous 1958 championship game. Alan Ameche ended that game with a touchdown run. Ameche was a Heisman trophy winner and he made a big splash in his NFL debut. He had a 79-yard run from scrimmage on opening day 1955 against Chicago. Tying things together, this was the answer to one of Simmons’s quiz questions: “What was the longest run from scrimmage by a rookie in his first game?”

You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension— a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into the Red Zone.