League of Denial

The forthcoming book, League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth” is due out on October 8. SI.com and ESPN the Magazine are running excepts of it today.

ESPN.com’s summary of the book:

that the NFL used its power and resources to discredit independent scientists and their work; that the league cited research data that minimized the dangers of concussions while emphasizing the league’s own flawed research; and that league executives employed an aggressive public relations strategy designed to keep the public unaware of what league executives really knew about the effects of playing the game.

The book, written by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, provided the research basis for the documentary, also called League of Denial. A preview of that documentary appears to have set in motion the chain of events that led ESPN, in August, to pull out of its collaboration with PBS about the documentary and other reporting on the link between playing football and long-term brain injuries.

Reading the excerpts is sickening. Yes, the NFL will have its own narrative about what it knew and when. But the evidence appears compelling – the league directed its considerable resources and energy to discrediting research that drew a significant link between football and brain trauma.

At the time of the settlement a few weeks back, I wrote:

lots of folks are arguing that the players didn’t deserve anything, because “they knew the risks.” This is a vague and more or less meaningless argument. As Harry Carson told O’Connor today, players were long aware of the “physical” risks, but the “neurological” ones were not apparent until much more recently. Carson himself has suffered from severe depression and suicidal thoughts (though he certainly sounds very lucid these days). And the question that would have been adjudicated at trial was not whether the players should have known, in some general sense, what the risks of playing were. A trial would have considered the more specific factual question of what the NFL knew, when it knew it and how it responded to what it knew in terms of how it provided medical treatment to its players. If the NFL was publicly pooh-poohing concussions when privately it was in possession of mounting evidence that they were associated with serious neurological problems, it could have been massively liable. It was this possibility that the NFL was most desperate to avoid.

For all the focus on the money involved in the settlement, the real scandal here is increasingly going to prove to be the NFL’s coverup about, ultimately, life and death matters.


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