Requiem for a Running Back
Director Rebecca Carpenter’s father, Lew Carpenter, was a world-championship running back for Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers. When he dies, her family receives a surprise call from Boston University’s brain bank, which asks for Lew’s brain for study. BU’s tests yield shocking results, with Lew becoming the 18th NFL player diagnosed postmortem with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative neurocognitive disorder that can cause episodes of rage, social withdrawal, and other unusual behaviors. Finding herself at ground zero of an unfolding public-health controversy, Rebecca embarks on a three-year odyssey across America to explore the far-reaching implications of this “new” disease in football players and other athletes. Rebecca approaches her subjects with a refreshing sense of humor, a manic curiosity, and a huge heart, and her subjects willingly open up and offer their insights and support. Through quirky and poignant visits with family friends, former NFL players, and headline-stealing scientists such as Dr. Bennet Omalu — who was portrayed by Will Smith in last year’s “Concussion” — Rebecca pursues a mystery decades in the making. Through her conversations with NFL Hall of Famers such as Mike Ditka and James Lofton and researchers such as neuropathologist Dr. Ann McKee, Rebecca begins to understand that the depression, obsessiveness, forgetfulness, and unpredictable temper that often complicated her relationship with her dad are common side effects of repeated blunt-force trauma to the brain.