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 project—most likely because of pressure from the League.
You can watch the trailer here.
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.