League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions, and the Battle for Truth
Mark Fainaru-Wada, Steve Fainaru
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“PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL PLAYERS DO NOT SUSTAIN FREQUENT REPETITIVE BLOWS TO THE BRAIN ON A REGULAR BASIS.”
So concluded the National Football League in a December 2005 scientific paper on concussions in America’s most popular sport. That judgment, implausible even to a casual fan, also contradicted the opinion of a growing cadre of neuroscientists who worked in vain to convince the NFL that it was facing a deadly new scourge: A chronic brain disease that was driving an alarming number of players -- including some of the all-time greats -- to madness.
League of Denial reveals how the NFL, over a period of nearly two decades, sought to cover up and deny mounting evidence of the connection between football and brain damage.
Comprehensively, and for the first time, award-winning ESPN investigative reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru tell the story of a public health crisis that emerged from the playing fields of our 21st century pastime. Everyone knew that football is violent and dangerous. But what the players who built the NFL into a $10 billion industry didn’t know – and what the league sought to shield from them – is that no amount of padding could protect the human brain from the force generated by modern football; that the very essence of the game could be exposing these players to brain damage.
In a fast-paced narrative that moves between the NFL trenches, America’s research labs and the boardrooms where the NFL went to war against science, League of Denial examines how the league used its power and resources to attack independent scientists and elevate its own flawed research -- a campaign with echoes of Big Tobacco’s fight to deny the connection between smoking and lung cancer. It chronicles the tragic fates of players like Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster, who was so disturbed at the time of his death he fantasized about shooting NFL executives; and former Chargers great Junior Seau, whose diseased brain became the target of an unseemly scientific battle between researchers and the NFL. Based on exclusive interviews, previously undisclosed documents and private emails, this is the story of what the NFL knew and when it knew it – questions at the heart of crisis that threatens football, from the highest levels all the way down to Pop Warner.
lined up to file workers’ compensation claims in California for brain injuries, opening up a new front against the league. In response, the NFL mounted a fierce lobbying campaign to close the loophole while teams and insurers fought the individual claims. The league had exerted the same pressures in an attempt to change the laws in other states. The battle became so heated that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Saints quarterback Drew Brees wrote a joint letter to the San Francisco Chronicle in
McKee, Pellman, Casson, Guskiewicz, Lovell. Riddell, the NFL’s official helmet maker, was named as a codefendant over allegations that its product was unsafe and the company had failed to provide sufficient warnings about the potential for long-term brain damage. In a cover sheet that outlined the nature of the filing, the lawyers checked the box for “Product Liability” in which bodily injury, death, or damage occurred. When the complaint was filed, the lawyers had no idea where it might lead
Barr began, attaching the link. He continued: “I have actually had some questions about the NFL study on neuropsychological testing that was published by Pellman and his colleagues last year in Neurosurgery. The number of reported baselines and injured players doesn’t match up with what I would expect for the five year study period from 1996 to 2001.” Naugle replied that he sent Lovell data on “2 or 3 players.” He added: “I have a few hundred baselines. Mark does not have those data.” Barr also
54-inch chest, 21-inch arms, a 20-inch neck, and 30-inch thighs. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.8 seconds. Long was an All-American at East Carolina and was selected by the Steelers in the fourth round of the 1984 draft. He played in 105 NFL regular-season games and 4 playoff games. In his final season, 1991, he tested positive for steroids at the beginning of training camp. When Noll told him, Long wept. The next day, he tried to commit suicide, first by sitting in a running car inside a closed
choreographed. But there was no way to comprehend the true violence of pro wrestling until he was in it. “You don’t appreciate how the sausage is made,” he said. Nowinski got kneed, elbowed, drop-kicked, punched, and otherwise smashed in the head. That was all very real. The concussions began with a kick to the chin from Bubba Ray Dudley’s boot. Nowinski sucked it up and kept going. When more concussions followed, he never gave himself time to recover. Soon he was experiencing pounding headaches