NEW YORK (Reuters) - Sony Pictures Entertainment executives altered the script of its forthcoming movie "Concussion," about football-related brain trauma, to avoid antagonizing the National Football League, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.
Citing emails between Sony studio executives that were leaked by hackers in a massive cyber attack last year, the Times said marketing plans for the movie were positioned to focus on the story of a whistle-blower, rather than a condemnation of the sport.
The movie, starring Will Smith as a pathologist who diagnosed a degenerative brain disease in U.S. football players that is linked to repeated blows to the head, is due in movie theaters in December. A first trailer was released on Monday, and the movie is seen as a potential Oscar contender.
The NFL in April settled a lawsuit brought by about 5,000 former players who accused it of covering up the dangers of concussions.
"Will (Smith) is not anti football (nor is the movie) and isn’t planning to be a spokesman for what football should be or shouldn’t be," Dwight Caines, the president of domestic marketing at Sony Pictures, wrote in an email on Aug. 6, 2014, to three top studio executives about how to position the movie, according to the New York Times report.
"We’ll develop messaging... to ensure that we are telling a dramatic story and not kicking the hornet’s nest," it quoted the email as saying.
Another email on Aug. 1, 2014, quoted by the Times, said some "unflattering moments for the NFL" were deleted or changed. A note on July 30, 2014, said a top Sony lawyer had taken "most of the bite" out of the film "for legal reasons with the NFL and that it was not a balance issue."
The Times said "Concussion" director and writer Peter Landesman confirmed in an interview that Sony lawyers had deleted some material from the film. But "there was never an instance where we compromised the storytelling to protect ourselves from the NFL," Landesman told the newspaper.
Sony Pictures did not immediately respond to calls for comment. The NFL declined to comment on the report but said in a statement it was encouraged by the focus on player health and safety.
"We all know more about this issue than we did 10 or 20 years ago. As we continue to learn more, we apply those learnings to make our game and players safer," it said.
(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)