“I don’t think it’s going to generate too much controversy [with the NFL],” Smith, 47, said at the Hollywood Film Awards Sunday, according to the Associated Press. “There will be a little difficulty in swallowing it, as it was for me. I’m a football dad, you know.”
In the film, Smith plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in the brain of Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster as well as other football players. Omalu went on to claim that professional football could pose a long-term threat to the health of players who repeatedly suffered head injuries.
Smith was honored for his screen work the Hollywood Film Awards, taking home the Hollywood Actor Award.
But the star admits that when he was first approached with the part, he was hesitant to sign on – not because of potential controversy involving the NFL, but due to his own feelings as a parent.
“As an artist, I was deeply inspired to tell this man’s story, but deeply conflicted as a parent. When my son was on that football field, that was the most fun that I ever had as a parent – watching that boy play football,” Smith told PEOPLE on the carpet. “The thing that hit me was that I didn’t know. I was worried about him breaking his leg, worried about the big thing was spinal injury.”
Smith said once he learned of the potential risks facing players who are not properly cared for, his decision was made.
“I had no idea the level of neurological repercussion that he was in danger of, playing this game – so I decided to take on this film with a seriously heavy heart.”
And while he doesn’t fear the NFL’s response to the film, he expects that the film will cause some discomfort among viewers, much like it did himself.
“You don’t want it to be true,” Smith told reporters. “I think that the science is really irrefutable and the story of Dr. Bennet Omalu is such a powerful story. I think that it will be difficult at first for some, but I don’t think that it’s going to be that big of an issue. It’s something that we have to accept.”
When the first Concussion trailer was released, the NFL issued a statement in response:
“We are encouraged by the ongoing focus on the critical issue of player health and safety. We have no higher priority. 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,” the organization told Fox News.
Concussion hits theaters Christmas Day.