If you’re a football fan, it can sometimes feel like your sport is under siege by enemies both real (Donald Trump) and not actually a threat at all (national anthem protesters). One of the concrete threats is the long-term implications of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. As more players are diagnosed with CTE each year, Rebecca Carpenter’s Requiem for a Running Back offers a deeply personal perspective into the crisis.
The director’s father, Lew Carpenter, played professional football from 1953 to 1963, winning championships with the Green Bay Packers under Vince Lombardi. After his death in 2010, Boston University surprised his family by requesting Carpenter’s brain for study. The university then informed them that Lew had been suffering from advanced CTE, and Rebecca embarked on what would become a three-year journey to fully grasp the effect the disease had on her relationship with her father, inadvertently putting herself in the center of a growing debate about the future viability of the sport.
Carpenter isn’t a polished interviewer, but her candor and longstanding connections to the sport provide access that we wouldn’t see otherwise, a fact apparent with former NFL player John Hilton, who takes an agonizing two minutes attempting to answer the question, “Do you know why you’re here?” She interviews a wide range of friends, family, doctors (including Bennet Omalu, the inspiration for Concussion), and former players who derisively dismiss the NFL’s self-reporting concussion requirements (the league “incentivizes self-harm,” as one puts it). Requiem is ultimately less about a disease and more about coming to terms with our past, while also reminding us pro football has had to be dragged screaming onto the right side of history regarding everything from civil rights to player safety.
Requiem for a Running Back
Directed by Rebecca Carpenter
Opens November 10, Cinema Village