Book Check: "League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for the Truth"

Categories: Books

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Title: "League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for the Truth" by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru

Rating Using Random Objects Related to the Book's Subject: 6 "Brain Slides" out of 5 if you like football, 5 Brain Slides even if you don't like football.

Why Brain Slides? Slides of the brain of Mike Webster showed the first confirmed case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in football players. This disease is at the heart of the concussion concerns that are plaguing football at all levels and threaten the continued existence of the NFL.

A Brief Plot Synopsis: The NFL, seeking to protect itself and its billions, when presented with scientific evidence that concussions might cause degenerative brain disease in its players, fought back with the same playbook as the tobacco industry: "buy" science that creates the aura of a scientific "debate," brutally attack the credentials of anyone who disagrees, and, then, when the scientific consensus gets to be too much to deny the link with a straight face, make some minor changes and ensure you still exert some control over concussion research via your purse strings. Also settle lawsuit against you for actions in regards to concussions for $765 million (which is chump change to you).

Subtitle: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for the Truth

Better Subtitle: Wallets Run the World, And the NFL Has a Big Wallet OR Why the NFL, In Its Present Form, Won't Be Around in 25 Years

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: I'm not going to go into a very detailed plot synopsis, because you need to read this book for yourself. But I do need to give you enough to whet your appetite (and I also don't want to steal the outrage you will feel upon reading all the gory details).

The book is divided into three sections. The first is told through the story of Mike Webster, the Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Steelers center, and the excruciatingly sad ending of his life and the chance autopsy that resulted in the discovery of CTE in football players. The second section of the book is the most troubling. Paul Tagliabule, knowing he had to do something about concussions, formed the "Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee." To chair that committee, he picked a rheumatologist (a specialist in arthritis) who went to medical school in Mexico and falsified his resume (Elliot Pellman).

This committee would continually deny that concussions were a major issue, even as the evidence of CTE in players mounted and mounted. In response, the NFL attacked the credibility of the "Dissenters" (what the authors label those who championed the early CTE research), and found an academic journal that would publish the NFL's own "science" despite the fact that the peer-reviewers all said it was junk science.

How did this happen? They found a USC researcher who was a "jock-sniffer" (as some put it) who ran a neurology journal.

The final section of the book details how, when the science became too much to deny, Tagliabule retired, dumped the concussion issue in Roger Goodell's lap, and watched the Ginger Hammer twist in the end.

The Epilogue is depressing as well. The NFL, using the same law firm that guided Big Tobacco through its denials for so many years, has given large money gifts to all the major research institutions that study concussions.

"Critical" Analysis: As I'm typing this, the TV is tuned to an NFL game. And it's making me feel a little odd. It is difficult to walk away from this book without concluding that the NFL is run a by a bunch of greedy billionaires -- we already knew that from their corporate welfare requests for publicly financed stadiums -- but that the folks in the NFL's league office are terrible human beings who are complicit in the deaths of some of its players in the past, and possibly some going forward. The NFL ignored the issue when Mike Webster died. And then Andre Waters shot himself. And then Dave Duerson. And then Junior Seau. Who's next? And this is only a partial list of player deaths.

These investigative reporters have committed a heroic act of journalism. This is not hyperbole. This book may help save peoples' lives and save families heartache and pain. This book will be the definitive account of the end of the concussion era in the NFL. This book may contribute to the end of the NFL as we know it. This book matters.


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2 comments
gebertin64
gebertin64

Spot-on review.  While I'm very familiar with both the world of football and anatomy, I still found much to learn about the material covered in this book, especially the in-fighting between researchers in the "brain" race.  While the behind-the-scene tactics of the NFL did not surprise me, it is still infuriating to see how many employers (in this case, the NFL) will put profits ahead of the long-term health of their employees.  It dehumanizes society.

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