Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"League of Denial: The NFL's Concussion Crisis" online at PBS Frontline, puts football as a sport on notice


PBS Frontline “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis” aired Oct. 8, 2013 but is available to cable subscribers at this link.  (You have to be logged on to your cable provider’s site first.)  The film is narrated by Will Lynn and directed by Michael Kirk.
  
The film starts with the account of the death of Mike Webster ), formerly of the Pittsburgh Steelers, at 50, or heart disease.  The “Autopsy that Changed Football” (by Dr. Bennett Omalu) started with the feet and legs, which looked like an old man’s.  His body was racked by cellulitis, but the worst damage was in his brain, from “getting his bell rung”.  It was of normal size, but his history suggested progressive dementia.  “Mike wasn’t Mike”.  Later the autopsy  showed long term damage to the brain, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (“CTE”), with lesions in tau proteins which would choke brain cells. 

The film shows a brain autopsy, and the brain looks a bit like old hamburger. But it is also our closest object showing who someone was.


Football is destroying the brains of NFL players. For the NFL, this was unprecedented bad news. This had not been suspected for a helmeted sport.  It was fundamentally safer than boxing, it had been thought.  

 Malcolm Gladwell has raised the same issue over high school and college football.
  
Later, the wife of a disabled and then deceased player, Perfetto, was denied admittance to a player’s meeting.
  
The book is “League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle fort Truth”, by Mark Fainaru-Wadu and Steve Fainaru, by Three Rivers Press (in Pittsburgh), link here. 

By 2010, CTE had been found in the brains of 19  of 20 deceased NFL players.  Then the case of Owen Thomas, who hanged himself without a history of concussions, showed CTE, from sub-concussive hits that are part of the game.
  
Then an 18-year-old athlete Pelly died and showed CTE in the frontal lobes.  Bring back Malcolm Gladwell’s arguments.  This was just from high school football.  Dr. Ann McKee (“the woman who would destroy football as we know it” link)

Robert Stern of the Boston University CTE Center does discuss the need for large enough and random samples of autopsy brains. 

NIH got involved with the case of Junior Seau. 

The $765 Million settlement by the NFL with retired players did hide the NFL’s own “research” putting it in the position that resembles that of tobacco companies.  The most popular sport in America is on notice, or as we sometimes said in the workplace, “on discipline.” 
  
No wonder I resisted being “forced” at age nine or so to try to play football – tackle – at least once. 

The film can be rented for $1.99 on YouTube, or played through your Cable provider  (depending on your contract).

Update:

PBS aired an update of the film on Dec. 22, 2015.

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