“League of Denial” Wrap Up and Reax

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 of some of the players most effected by these issues and rightfully painted them as the victims.  From the family of Mike Webster struggling with a shell of a man, to Lisa McHale trying to spread the word with Sports Legacy Institute, to Eleanor Perfetto being shut out, by the commissioner – in photos, from a meeting about taking care of football retirees.  As I said on Twitter last night, those individuals and all those that deal with the players declining are angels.

Certainly the settlement has seemingly washed the hands of the league in this matter, but I am here to tell you that information like this keeps the dialogue open.  And then there is the matter other leagues and sanctioning bodies that will be putting up the same fight, NCAA most notably.

The key to all of this is: resonance.  Will this film and book resonate beyond the initial drop?  There is a reason the documentary was on PBS and not on another “big” station.  That not withstanding, it takes all of us to keep this alive and keep tightening the screws.

Here are some links to wrap ups;

I would love to hear your comments, either here in the section below, or on our Facebook Page.

As a reminder I am planning on answering questions on Fronline’s Facebook page later today.



13 thoughts on ““League of Denial” Wrap Up and Reax

  1. Dustin Fink October 9, 2013 / 08:59

    From the other post:

    Wow! Here it is 9:00 AM on the east coast on the morning after and I am the first one to comment directly on the League of Denial documentary? That is hard to believe!

    In the interest of full disclosure, I was a co-author of the 1st NATA Position Statement on Sports-related Concussions in 2004. I have been a certified athletic trainer for 28 years and I love football. I am also the Founder of the Chattanooga Concussion Prevention Initiative, so obviously I am interested in concussions and all of the peripherals.

    With all of that said, I thought the job done by Frontline was excellent for the most part. Was it a tainted or slanted view against the NFL? Yes, I believe any objective viewer would believe it was, but the NFL refused to appear on the documentary. Were the points against the NFL wrong or unfair? Based on the evidence presented, I would argue not at all. Were a lot of questions answered? Well, maybe, but it depends on your perspective and previous knowledge. I am sure for the “average fan” there were a lot of questions answered. For me, it raised a lot of questions too.

    I applaud the work of Dr. Ann McKee. She came off as a straight forward, honest, scientist, who is passionate about her love of football and of her science. I agree with her when she said they had evaluated 45 brains of former NFL football players and 44 of them had CTE. Her comment about it being “an alarming hit rate for any disease” is correct. However, I think Dr. Joseph Maroon’s comments raising questions about CTE being caused by concussions and only concussions was also an excellent point. He pointed out that perhaps alcohol or drug abuse or steroid use could be contributing factors to CTE too. Perhaps, it is a combination of the use of these drugs and the head trauma causing the CTE? I don’t know?

    I would also ask Dr. McKee if she is blinded to the brains when she examines them? From what I could tell in the presentation, she is not. Also, her study of brains with CTE appear to be all former NFL players, 1 from high school and 1 from college, but what about soccer players? Or what about athletes from other sports? What about females vs. males? What about those players who play college football, but never go on to play in the NFL? Of the number of high school players who never play college football? Are any of their brains examined for CTE? If so, what were the findings?

    One point that was touched on ever so slightly is the genetic relationship. There is some research out there that does appear to indicate a potential genetic link between APOE promoter genotypes and concussions. This certainly cannot be ignored or not investigated by Dr. McKee and others like her.

    Obviously, this documentary is lightening rod for those who want to ban football and for those who wish to legislate safety into all aspects of society. But sometimes, despite the best of intentions, you are going to get hurt for no other reason than just because!

    I will make two final soap box statements. Nowhere in the documentary did it state the fact that these players, in many cases, bring the concussions and/or the CTE on themselves. How many of them are wearing a properly fitted helmet? I know, helmets are not made to prevent concussions! I get that and understand it, but I believe an ill-fitted helmet pre-disposes one to a concussion. How many players do you see put their helmets on or take them off with one hand? Secondly, how many of the highlights they showed last night, did the player lead with their head? How many of those hits were penalized? I am a Steeler fan, but I will acknowledge that former Steeler James Harrison has led with his head way too many times, causing injuries to himself or to his opponent. Until we get the officials to make the calls on the field, the problem will continue to exist.

    Thank you for having this forum Dustin. It is a wonderful thing you do!

    Scott L. Bruce, MS, ATC

    • Glenn Beckmann October 9, 2013 / 09:20

      Thank you Scott.

  2. stevie777587 October 9, 2013 / 08:59

    Keating broke the ice on this with ESPN in 2006, before Nowinski, good to see he is still at it. Yet no coverage on neck initiatives. More to the story.

  3. Kelly October 9, 2013 / 15:52

    Hi there, I am a concerned parent. What is being done to prevent this from happening to our kids? My son has been playing for 2 years now. He is in 4th grade now. Is there someone following the kids on up to college to see how many concussions it takes to get this or some kind of blood work that can be done to see if these players have it? It seems like to me for the last 20 years the only thing that has been accomplished is mins passing by. and alot of finger pointing. That is not getting these kids and their parents the information they need to make an informed decision about weather or not they should be letting their kids even play. We love everything about football. my son wants to play no matter what so how do we protect them? is there different equipment a sensor to tell weather the head has been hit too hard and if so he can’t play anymore? WOW see I have alot of questions.

    • Dustin Fink October 9, 2013 / 19:36

      Your son was playing tackle football in 2nd grade? I stopped reading after that…

      • Michael Hopper October 9, 2013 / 22:56

        Agreed Dustin. That’s the first problem. Tackle football in 2nd grade is WAY too early!

      • concerned mom October 10, 2013 / 15:55


        Not sure if your comment is entirely fair. Parents are told that the rewards of sports are greater than the risks. Even yesterday, Dr. Bailes told an entire twitter chat group that he believes youth football is safe (you know, Pop Warner, which I believes starts at age 5), that the kids don’t hit that much, and that the velocities are low (may not be exactly what he said, but that was the gist).

        Wonder what information this mom was provided with when she signed her son up. Perhaps the family got a flyer for the program through school or their town recreation department. Don’t you think parents assume programs using school and town facilities are relatively safe, or that they’re at least age appropriate? I’ve now learned not to make those assumptions, but I used to. Isn’t it sad that youth sports are buyer beware!

      • Dustin Fink October 10, 2013 / 20:20

        Fair enough… I too think football is relatively safe, but it take A LOT of factors for it to be that way… It takes a lot of resources to be that way… And Bailes may be somewhat right, but seriously the velocity thing is a bit over stated by many, it was proven in the Virginia Tech study of youth football, the forces they found are just as bad, not as numerous, as big-boy football…

        I still think that full contact football for those outside/younger than football should really be limited or restricted or even done away with… At the very least then weight restrictions for each group should be adhered too… Sort of like the Sprint Football on the east coast, where everyone on the team must be under 172 lbs, iirc…

        Age grouping is to varying for sizes and especially ability… If people are truly concerned about physical activity I highly doubt making flag the only option under HS would hurt the game, in fact it will grow the game, IMO…

      • Kelly October 11, 2013 / 16:02

        no no no this is my sons second year. he started in 3rd grade and he did one year of flag before that.

    • Dustin Fink October 12, 2013 / 09:19


      Sorry for the terse reply earlier.

      Your questions are very good and valuable, I will try to address them…

      – Longitudinal (or long-term studies) are now underway, to examine exactly that. This takes time, and for now all of our kids are relative “guinea pigs”.
      – Education about the injury has been wonderful, the education about recovery is slow but positive, we have dramatically improved in that area. But the egos and finger wagging is at an all time high.
      – Protection of kids is our priority, their brains are more susceptible to injury and recovery is more complicated, especially with school. Protection starts with complete informed consent of the parents, then hammering home to the kids the importance of speaking up and not being “tough” by playing through a brain injury. The other components are but not limited to: proper and properly fitted equipment, safe coaching, safe play (including proper rule enforcement), risk appraisal before/after and injury to determine if full collision football is beneficial in the long-term, having properly trained medical coverage for tackle football (insert the need for athletic trainers), and making sure management of the injury is correct.
      – There are sensors out on the market, the efficacy of those are still being determined, but they do have some value. However, the NOCSAE (governing body over helmet/equipment certification) has determined that adding on products to previously certified “stuff” will void the warranty and certification. Again a risk appraisal is needed here. Those sensors have determined in studies of kids playing football that the forces are equal to or greater than forces in college football, although less numerous.

      Thanks for the time!

      • joe bloggs October 12, 2013 / 14:52


        I see little evidence that playing collision sports before sexual maturity is beneficial to the athlete. As a retied NFL player who is a member of a D-1 athletic department said to me last night, young children just ram into one another in Pop Warner or equivalent. They are not developing their agility, throwing, catching or cutting skills. He is not alone. Chris Mason and Keyshawn Johnson, among others, share similar opinions. It should be noted my friend’s daughters all play flag football and are beasts. The also play other sports developing all a full spectrum of skills and muscle groups.

        Tackle football is an adult sport and you should be old enough to take the hammering.

        All the promotion of children hitting one another by Mickey Collins and Kevin Guskiewicz is little more than NFL marketing to promote early participation so children become fans not players (Genetics, drive, great coaching, well-maintained equipment, good fields, proper medical care and a great deal of luck creates NFL and D1 players). Neither Collins nor Guskiewicz is an expert in pediatric physiology or neurology, one is a clinical psychologist the other an ATC. Both are on the NFL payroll.

        You might want to review the concussion pages offered by Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (as opposed to opportunists practicing outside their realm of expertise, Flora Winston and her department are true independent experts) or the Mayo Clinic pediatric pages.

        This board is pro-sports but, first an foremost, pro-athlete.

  4. The term “safer football” is composed of contradictory or incongruous words.

    An examination of antonyms of “safe and safer” reflects the reality and probability of the outcome of football participation.

    Athletes are endangered, exposed, and susceptible to injury…yet these injuries are being minimized or accepted as “part of the game”…

    and often without a critical examination of the financial, physical, emotional and social costs of sport-related injuries on the particpant and family members.

    Perhaps there is a more ‘global’ sport injury issue emerging that has been underaddressed? The global issue follows:

    That the SPORT CULTURE in the U.S. often idealizes sport participation & therefore uncritically accepts various types of sport injuries as “ part of the game “…

    …whether the injury be a sprained ankle, broken leg or a damaged brain….and ignores all the inherent risks of particpation.

    Football participation directly causes many types of injuries…and the predictable injuries that occur are one of the reasons that Sports Medicine is an expanding field…and big business.

    ( $ports Medicine = big busine$$ ).

    Discussions with former NFL pro athletes find a common thread…football is a violent sport….and violence is enmeshed in the history of football

    We don’t tippy toe around left end to tackle the opposing player…

    we were praised for, and paid to, deliver crushing blows…

    “We try to hurt everybody,” Sam Huff told Time (1959). “We hit each other as hard as we can. This is a man’s game.”
    A year later, a 30-minute CBS documentary titled “The Violent World of Sam Huff,” narrated by Walter Cronkite, provided America a close-up look at pro football and one man who craved its raw instincts.
    (see youtube for the 1960 CBS documentary)

  5. PS…

    In my haste to keep a dental appointment I inadvertently omitted some additional comments that follow:

    I only mentioned the earlier perspective re the violent world of football and NOT the present day status as I believe the PBS League of Denial broadcast spot-lited the long-term and present day violence pattern that encapsulates football.

    Finally, I believe info gleaned and quoted from the following source
    serves as an appropriate closure:


    Omalu is astounded the culture comprehends bone injury for a colliding football player while typically disregarding cerebral trauma as though unseen, benign.

    “The brain is a post-mitotic organ. It means the brain cells do not have the ability to divide and create new cells. …

    A concussion is simply fracture. You know how you break your bone? That is what a concussion is, but now it is on the cellular level.

    A concussion is a fracture of the skeleton of the brain cells. If you fracture your bone, the NFL will keep you out of play for the entire season. They say it is a season-ending injury.

    But the bone has the ability to divide, and create new bone, and heal. A fracture can become healed, OK?”

    “But—a fracture of the brain, which is a concussion, does not have the ability to heal as well as the bone.

    The bone is more resilient, but somebody fractures his bone you keep him out of play for three months.

    But if somebody fractures his brain? You keep him out of play for only two weeks? Does that make sense even if you’re not a doctor?”

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