The guys who brought you the BALCO scandal are back, and they’ve opened up another big can.
Investigative journalists Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru have written a new book called, League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions, and the Battle for Truth. Heavy stuff. The book analogizes the NFL and its approach to handling concussions to Big Tobacco and its handling of health problems caused by cigarettes. It tells tales of intimidation, manipulation and phony science, accusing the NFL of prioritizing its business interests over player safety despite known and severe hazards to players.
The NFL isn’t talking about it. It already negotiated a $765 million settlement with former players and has litigation to deal with on this topic. It has been out in the public for a few years now that playing football often leads to brain trauma resulting in depression, anxiety and dementia, among other illnesses. And it is widely accepted that for a long time the football community was, at best, willfully ignorant of the severity of these risks.
So that aspect of the book doesn’t break new ground, but the promotional materials for the book promise the most logistically detailed account of how the concussion narrative has been shaped over the past 20 years.
It accuses the NFL of setting up a self-serving health study that concluded concussions were minor injuries not likely to cause neurological problems later in life. It accuses the NFL of attempting to keep secret agreement to pay more than $2 million in disability payments for former players, after deciding football had given them brain damage. It accuses NFL commissioner Roger Goodell of hearing from independent researchers about the link between football and brain damage in 2007, but waiting three years to acknowledge it.
League of Denial quotes a researcher named Dr. Ann McKee who wonders if chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) — its symptoms are similar to dementia — is an unavoidable consequence of playing football.
"I’m really wondering if every single football player doesn’t have this,” she said.
If that’s true, it’s a big problem not just for the NFL, but for football itself.