Tonight on Frontline — League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis

The long anticipated Frontline documentary “League of Denial” will be shown on PBS tonight from 9-11PM. A book with the same title by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru was released this morning. I hope you’ll watch it either on TV or on-line. The show examines the problems of concussions and traumatic brain injury (TBI) in professional football.

The NFL is not at all happy about the program. In fact, as I reported recently, ESPN was originally a partner with Frontline on the documentary; but after the trailer (produced and edited by my talented brother, John MacGibbon) was released, ESPN abruptly pulled out of the projectmost likely because of pressure from the League.

You can watch the trailer here.

There is lots of coverage of relevant topics at the Frontline site. Here’s a recent story on the doctor who made the connection between football and TBI: The Autopsy That Changed Football

Growing up in Nigeria, Dr. Bennet Omalu knew next to nothing about American football. He didn’t watch the games, he didn’t know the teams, and he certainly didn’t know the name Mike Webster.

That changed in 2002 when Omalu was assigned to perform an autopsy on the legendary Steelers center. Webster had died at 50, but to Omalu, he looked far older. Football had taken a punishing toll on his body. It was Omalu’s job to measure the damage.

As a neuropathologist, Omalu was especially interested in the brain. Inside Mike Webster’s brain, he’d make a startling discovery: a disease never previously identified in football players. The condition, known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, was the first hard evidence that playing football could cause permanent brain damage. Players with CTE have battled depression, memory loss, and in some cases dementia.

“I had to make sure the slides were Mike Webster’s slides,” Omalu told FRONTLINE. “I looked again. I saw changes that shouldn’t be in a 50-year-old man’s brains, and also changes that shouldn’t be in a brain that looked normal.”

Omalu published his findings, believing NFL officials would want to know more. They didn’t. In public, league doctors assailed his research. Omalu’s conclusions confused the medical literature, they argued. In a rare move, they demanded a retraction.

You can use this as an open thread or a live blog to comment on the documentary. I plan to watch it tonight, and I hope you’ll join me.

20 Comments on “Tonight on Frontline — League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    I just hope I can stay awake till 11!

    • dakinikat says:

      Looks like the sports community here watched it!

      Fletcher Mackel ‏@FletcherMackel 8m
      Brees on @frontlinepbs NFL concussion report “mistakes were made but hopefully we can learn, educate and make things better for everyone.”

  2. bostonboomer says:

    Jonathan Chait has another great post today.

    John Boehner Too Embarrassed to Defend His Own Extortion Demands

    Like President Obama, John Boehner used his remarks today to reiterate his same position on the debt ceiling and the government shutdown. Boehner’s central rhetorical thrust, as it has been all along, has been to elide the crucial distinction between hostage-taking and normal political negotiation. The latter involves mutual concessions in order to arrive at policy changes both parties agree would improve the status quo. The former involves one party forcing the other to accept otherwise unacceptable policy changes by threatening to undertake actions that both sides agree are harmful.

    Boehner began by repeating his debunked and obvious falsehood that the debt ceiling is always used in the manner he proposes to use it now. Boehner’s line here is that “27 times” in the past it has forced the parties to deal with the deficit. In his earlier press conference, Obama explained why this is false: Those instances actually entailed the two parties negotiating in the traditional fashion and appending a debt-ceiling increase onto the final result. They did not involve a party actually threatening default to wrest un-reciprocated concessions.

    Rather than engage with Obama’s debunking, Boehner simply repeated his original, false formulation. Boehner augmented his talking point by mentioning that Democrats in Congress declined to lift the debt ceiling in 2010. But this doesn’t strengthen Boehner’s case — it weakens it even more. The Democratic Congress was not threatening default, nor was it attempting to force Obama to accept policies he opposed. It was simply holding off on a vote in a (wildly misguided) belief that Republicans should have to take ownership of the debt issue rather than blame it on them.

  3. bostonboomer says:

    Noam Scheiber:

    A Short-Term Debt Limit Increase Would Be a Disaster

    President Obama shouldn’t want it. Neither should John Boehner.

  4. janicen says:

    OMG thank you for the reminder! I totally forgot about this! Can’t wait until 9:00 pm!

  5. bostonboomer says:

    I’m streaming “League of Denial” on line here:

  6. bostonboomer says:

    I’m not sure I can watch football anymore. This is scary.

    • janicen says:

      I agree. It’s also fascinating that they marginalized the male scientists and managed to put a female doctor in the forefront of the scientific research which shows that football is causing CTE. It’s so much easier for them to demonize a woman doctor.

  7. Fannie says:

    Yay, Janet Yellen is the Fed Chair……………she will be officially announced tomorrow. That’s another good thing the President has done today.

  8. bostonboomer says:

    I hope that anyone who has children will watch this program. No child should play football until he is old enough to make a decision based on the research.

    • janicen says:

      The real research. Not the NFL’s stonewalling.

    • List of X says:

      I’d just stop at “no child should play football.” An ability to making a rational decision based on research is rare enough among adults. And besides, those high school football programs are a huge drain on education resources.

  9. ecocatwoman says:

    I didn’t make it to the end, falling asleep around 10:30. This was an extremely well done documentary, but I fear not enough people will see it. Throughout I couldn’t help comparing the tactics of the NFL has, and continues to, use the same tactics employed by the Republicans. Lying, questioning and/or denigrating the science while only paying lip service to a very, very serious and dangerous problem. Football players in particular, whether at the HS, college or professional level are no more than modern day gladiators. The spectators yell the loudest when there are tackles that end with a player being carried off the field. All that matters is that their team wins. I didn’t always look at football this way, but was a rabid fan, never missing a game. I guess I had an epiphany because of the violence several years ago and stopped watching. BB, please tell your brother that he and his colleagues who worked on this did a magnificent job and a great public service. This was definitely a David vs Goliath action. I fear the NFL is too powerful and too well funded to ever fall. Humans are a bloodthirsty lot

    • bostonboomer says:

      There is no way football will be abolished. The best we can hope for is that people learn about the dangers–as with smoking.

    • bostonboomer says:

      I think a lot more people will see this show than other Frontline documentaries. It has gotten a lot of press coverage. It has been heavily discussed on Twitter last night. The book is likely to be a best seller too.

    • Fannie says:

      Me too……………It is amazing how they live in denial up to this very day. They paid out millions, but they still refused to acknowledge the connection of football players and head injury disease.

      I think every school, every family should watch this, it is excellent in educating about a horrible disease that should be stopped, and more restrictions on the physical game itself.

      It brought tears to my eyes to see Iron Mike…………..and I couldn’t help but think about the thug Harrison who plays for Steelers. He beat his wife, told the NFL it was because she wouldn’t change her religion, and the coaches came to his rescue, and not to that of the wife and child. I think he suffers from this disease too, and think the NFL needs to provide more counseling to the families, not just the players.

      Great job, I need to watch more on PBS.

  10. janicen says:

    Two minutes before the comparison was made in this documentary, hubby said, “They are stonewalling just like the cigarette companies.” Bingo!

    But we have to wonder, why? What is to gain? Won’t there just be more victims and ultimately the game has to radically change or really just stop and it will if enough people become aware of the dangers. Parents (and it pissed me off that they kept saying “moms” as if parenting responsibility falls exclusively to moms) who care about there children will never let them play football because it’s an early death sentence. Unless. Unless there is no other hope for their kids’ futures. Aren’t we seeing this in the military? Sure some people want to join the military but for many poor people, what other choice is there? The economy has been decimated for the larger and larger numbers of Americans born into poverty. If the only hope there was for your child to achieve the American dream beyond anything you ever thought was possible was for them to play football, I’m sure many desperate people would make that happen. There’s your pipeline of players. It will never stop as long as the American economy is in the state it’s in. The NFL fat cats will keep getting wealthy and the players will keep getting sick. And dying.

    So it seems there might be another connection between the NFL and the GOP. As long as the poor are kept poor the NFL will have players.

    The documentary changed me. I don’t think I can watch football the same way or possibly at all anymore. It’s sad because I fucking love(d) football.

    • janicen says:

      Grammar correction in the forth line of the second paragraph: *their children, not there children. But you know what I mean.

    • bostonboomer says:

      I love(d) football too, but not for the hits. I could live without the extreme violence. But a lot of fans couldn’t. They have tried to cut down on the concussions, but even the players themselves resist the efforts to keep them safer.