Sony still on the defense after hack, this time over NFL head trauma movie

Will Smith stars as Dr. Bennet Omalu in Sony Motion Pictures' "Concussion."

Will Smith stars as Dr. Bennet Omalu in Sony Motion Pictures’ “Concussion.”

(Sony Pictures / AP)

Sony Pictures Entertainment continues to find itself on the defensive, even nine months after the studio was attacked by hackers.

The latest blow came Tuesday with a report that the company had altered a film about the head trauma debate in professional football.

The New York Times used emails released after Nov. 24’s cyber attack to make the case that Sony had edited the Will Smith movie “Concussion” to avoid protests from the National Football League.

Among many emails cited by the newspaper was an August 2014 one from Dwight Caines, the president of domestic marketing at Sony, to top studio executives saying, “we’ll develop messaging with the help of N.F.L. consultant to ensure that we are telling a dramatic story and not kicking the hornet’s nest.”

Sony on Wednesday released a statement saying the story contained “many misleading inferences” and “nothing with regard to this important story has been ‘softened’ to placate anyone.”


The studio even put out a statement attributed to sportscaster Bob Costas: “I have seen the movie. As one who has followed, and commented on, this issue, it doesn’t appear to me many punches were pulled.”

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Smith plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic neuropathologist who identified the first case of CTE in a deceased NFL player. The filmmaker and studio bill the movie as a David vs. Goliath story about the doctor’s efforts to get the NFL to take action.

The movie’s trailer, released Monday, shows an executive telling Smith’s character, “You’re going to a war with a corporation that owns a day of the week.”

The cyber attack, which officials blamed on North Korea, has produced a long tail of publicity issues for Sony. A July report from Reuters dredged up correspondences that suggested the Adam Sandler movie “Pixels” was altered for global audiences, particularly China.

Those reports came months after the first wave of problems that forced the studio to change the release plan for the North Korea assassination film “The Interview” and led to the departure of studio head Amy Pascal.

Now as the studio approaches the first anniversary of the attack, it appears it’s not out of the firestorm.

The NFL declined to comment on the “Concussion” trailer or Sony’s response to the New York Times story.

However, Jeff Miller, the league’s senior vice president of health and safety policy, said in a Monday statement that the organization is “encouraged by the ongoing focus on the critical issue of player health and safety.”

Times staff writer Saba Hamedy contributed to this report.