I was just reading about a new book called “League of Denial,” which was the basis of a two-hour PBS Frontline documentary which aired Oct. 8. The book was written by ESPN reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, about the NFL’s handling—or lack of same—of the rising incidence of health problems in players and former players resulting from repeated concussions.
I haven’t read the book, and haven’t decided whether I will: it would probably end my days of watching pro football, and I’m just not sure I’m ready for that, yet. However, from Amazon’s promotional description of the book, as well as the reader reviews, the NFL’s repeated denials of concussion-related problems in its players are strikingly similar to the securities industry’s current stance on its responsibilities to its investor clients.
“Professional football players do not sustain frequent repetitive blows to the brain on a regular basis,” concluded a 2005 NFL sponsored “scientific” paper, as reported by the Fainaru brothers. Hard to believe, right? It was statements like this, which would render incredulous any second-grader who watched an NFL game for more than five minutes, to finally settle a class action suit with 4,500 former players over the payment of benefits for concussion-related illnesses.
That’s right: even harder to believe is that the NFL was denying medical benefits to players suffering from the aftermath of years of repeated concussions, such as dementia, brain damage, paralysis and even, eventually, death. What’s more, the settlement amount of $765 million works out to only $170,000 per player, and that’s before deducting legal fees. Many former players have already run up medical bills in excess of that figure, which have not been covered by the league.
“League of Denial” purports to show “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.” That mounting evidence includes independent neuro-scientific studies that show “no amount of padding could protect the human brain from the force generated by modern football.”
Now before I get a bunch of angry comments, yes, I’m well aware that football players assume the risk of their profession. Football is violent and dangerous and nobody knows that better than the players themselves. But what the players may not have known are the long-term consequences of their injuries. And if, as the Fainarus claim to show, the NFL did know it, and not only didn’t share the knowledge with its players (read: employees, here), and worse denied them benefits for treatment to cover up the truth, I think most us would think there was a serious wrong committed.