Tag Archives: Mark Fainaru-Wada

The OTL Investigation on ‘Heads Up’ Football

14 Jan

It may have slipped some of your reading or viewing, but ESPN’s Outside the Lines did a piece on the USA Football Heads Up Program.  The article and video were presented last Sunday morning – I cannot find a YouTube version of the OTL show but you can find that part HERE.  The seven minute presentation is great for a quick overview of the issues ESPN has found.

For more in-depth coverage you should read the article by Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada, the same authors that penned League of Denial.  There are some wonderful points brought to light by the Fainaru’s;

The program teaches concussion awareness and proper helmet fitting, but its central tenet is the soon-to-be trademarked Heads Up Tackling program. When executed properly, proponents say, Heads Up Tackling literally takes the head out of the game. Players are taught to keep their heads up and lead with their shoulders when tackling.

[...]

But critics view Heads Up as a cynical marketing ploy — a repackaging of old terminology to reassure parents at a time the sport is confronting a widening health crisis.

There is a reason I have been “relatively” quiet on this topic; it’s because they are doing some very good things in the way of education and helmet fitting.  As you may know I am huge on the topic of awareness when it comes to concussions.  I have stated many times that the injury itself is not the “ice burg we can see above the water” rather it’s the mismanagement of the concussion that is the massive ice chunk we cannot see from the surface.

That being said, with the actual tackling technique being taught I too feel this is a repackaging of an old mantra.  Rules were even put in place as early as the 70′s to accomplish this task of taking the head out of the game.  Face tackling, spearing and butt blocking all have been on the books as penalties to help avoid using the head as a weapon.

The problem being that those are not called very often, when they are called they are inconsistent at best, and what has it done for the game over nearly 40 years?  I am not nearly as critical as others;  Continue reading

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“League of Denial” Wrap Up and Reax

9 Oct

I surely hope everyone was able to watch PBS Frontline’s “League of Denial” last night, if you happened to miss it you can view it HERE.  This is also an opportunity to insist that you seek out the book, which is much more detailed and has more “players” in this issue.

During the film I along with others was asked to tweet live about what we were seeing, and as the app updated on my iPad the comments and opinions were very interesting.  I thought it was great that both the Fainaru’s were adding key details of the story while the action was unfolding, a lot of my retweets were from them.

From my feed it was obvious that the league did not look like they did enough in the way of getting information out.  Most poignant to me was the timeline of first admission – 2000 when the NFL Retirement Board awarded Mike Webster disability and admitted football created his problems.  Yet for years after that the league itself denied all research that supported those findings, Dr. Ira Casson even went as far as saying “No” to every question asked about long-term damage in 2007.  SEVEN YEARS AFTER.  Further, the league continued to deny and even down play leaked research (that was sponsored by the league itself) about brain issues after retirement, in 2009 when Alan Schwartz was leaked that information.  Later that same year Greg Aiello – after the thrashing of the league in Congress – admitted to Schwartz that there is a connection.

The film did a tremendous job of showing the plight Continue reading

“League of Denial” (Part 2)

8 Oct

Coming to a bookstore and TV near you today is “League of Denial” a book and documentary about one of the dirty little secrets the NFL has been avoiding for some time.  Fortunately, I have been provided with advance copies of both; the Frontline film was easy to digest, as for reading a book, well we can just say I am trying to read as fast as possible.

I was reminded quickly, yesterday via Twitter, that I may lack valuable perspective when it comes to concussion information (and that I am not normal – this is not breaking news).  Will Carroll of Bleacher Report let me know that this information will be new to a lot of people out there.  He is exactly right, not only that, this documentary will be easily digestible for the fan of football.  For any person just wading into this, when you tune into PBS tonight to view “League of Denial” you will be absolutely hooked from the start.

The sounds of the crowd, visuals of big hits grab your football part of the brain IMMEDIATELY, over those sounds you will quickly discover the problem NFL players have faced with brain injuries playing their sport.  Harry Carson saying “and then they are gone” when talking about former players.  A bold statement that the level of denial was “just profound.”  An NFL lawyer saying “we strongly deny those allegations that we withheld information or misled the players.”  And more video and sound of punishing hits that used to fill the highlight reel bring the opening curtain of this very important documentary.

This problem is real – it’s not just real for the professionals – and from the get go Frontline makes you understand, vividly and personally, why this is.  After listening to old radio calls of the Steel Curtain it all begins with the story of Mike Webster and the forensic pathologist who studied his brain, Bennet Omalu.

The discovery of a possible reason one of the most respected and lauded players in Pittsburgh sports pantheon fell from grace and eventually found and early demise.  If the football portion of your brain does not connect to what is being presented then I would haphazardly guess that you are not ingrained within the fabric of football.

As Harry Carson explains how the game was played and to some extent how it’s still played you can begin to understand the issue at hand.  This is hammered home when Robert Stern, PhD tells the audience blows to the brain are at forces 20 times greater than the force of gravity (20 G’s); or as he so eloquently put it “driving into a brick wall at 35mph”, 1,000 times or more in a season.

In the first 11 minutes of this 2 hour presentation you are at full attention and want to understand the “whats”, “whys” and “whos”.  If you are not engaged and ready for further explanation I can only say that you don’t care or want to bury your head in the sand.

Contributions in the film include Continue reading

“League of Denial” (Part 1)

7 Oct

Coming to a bookstore and TV near you tomorrow is “League of Denial” a book and documentary about one of the dirty little secrets the NFL has been avoiding for some time.  Fortunately, I have been provided with advance copies of both; the Frontline film was easy to digest, as for reading a book, well we can just say I am trying to read as fast as possible.

In all honesty, if you have followed any part of this issue nothing revealed in either medium (thus far in the book) is seen as “BREAKING NEWS” rather an illustration of what has been happening with the research arm and policy makers of the National Football League, with regards to concussions.

“League of Denial” the Book:

In what I have been able to read thus far both Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada have done a good job of telling the hidden secret.  The Fainau’s went as deep as they possibly could without the help of the league itself, even as far as getting one of the original researchers to recount some of the possible misgivings in the past.

By utilizing the real stories of players that met an early demise (Mike Webster most notably) the information has an emotional connection with the reader.  While reading this you understand why this information may have been so valuable to the families and friends of those that could have been effected by repeated head trauma.

It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to tell you that repetitive brain trauma is bad for you, but the problem here is Continue reading

ESPN OTL Article Sparking Quite A Debate

8 Apr

On the surface this article may be innocuous to many, but the the minutia of concussion research and information is coming to a head very quickly, especially pertaining to the NFL.  Tomorrow is the first hearings in front of the judge – and the possibility of total dismissal - for the concussion law suits filed by thousands of former NFL players.

ESPN and its Outside the Lines department (in conjunction with Frontline) filed this article taking a look at two of the most prominent people in the concussion research/awareness arena, Dr. Robert Cantu and Chris Nowinski;

Two prominent concussion researchers — including a senior adviser to the NFL — served as paid consultants to law firms suing the league for allegedly concealing the link between football and brain damage, according to interviews and documents obtained by “Outside the Lines” and “Frontline.”

The article written by Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada sheds light on the very issues the research community faces with this problem.  Some of this information can be classified as “not new” to people who participate in the constantly shifting arena of litigation and research, while some information can be deemed as scathing.  There is a very tight and ubiquitous line in this matter;

Researchers often are asked to appear as expert witnesses in legal proceedings related to their fields. The NFL suit, with the potential for billions of dollars in damages, has created a large demand for researchers with expertise in the science of concussions.

But some researchers said they have turned down such requests despite the potentially lucrative payoff out of concern the perceived conflict could compromise their research.

Conflict of interest (COI) is something we all need to pay attention to, although it applies to this current article, the COI in this field is rampant and often unchecked.  This is nothing new, players have talked about COI, other journalists have noted it, and one of our prominent commentators (Dr. Don Brady) on the site has even devoted some of his dissertation to COI.

It would seem this is nothing “new” in the world Continue reading

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