It’s a little different though when you start talking about the brain and finding out that it can totally change your personality and possibly lead to suicide. Many of the same players who once complained about taking the brutality out of the game recently sued the NFL for what they believed was withholding information on the danger of concussions.
When independent research started revealing the connection between concussions and brain damage the NFL developed a bunker mentality. The last thing football needed was mothers finding out the nation’s most popular sport might cause brain damage in their kids. The NFL employed “experts” who agreed with the league that there was no proof of a direct link between the two.
But the backlash was swift. The NFL soon found itself compared to the tobacco industry who for decades denied a link between smoking and lung cancer. More and more retired players popped up who suffer from memory loss and erratic behavior. Just recently, two former All-Pros, Junior Seau and Dave Duerson, committed suicide, and Super Bowl winning quarterbacks Jim McMahon and Brett Favre complained of memory loss. It was clear something awful has been happening to the sport.
A new book has just been released by investigative reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru called League of Denial: the NFL, Concussions, and the Battle for Truth. It documents the whole sorted affair from its origins to the present day. It’s fascinating, illuminating, and depressing. It’s bad enough that there are so many former players walking around (if the can still walk) who have no idea who they are but it’s made worse by a league that’s been in denial mode and more interested in protecting its product than the men who played it.
One of the most unfortunate things about the concussion issue is that there are villains everywhere including those within the scientific community who were responsible for exposing the link between playing football and brain damage. Instead of being on the same “team” the trailblazers developed inflated egos, a distrust of colleagues and an appetite for monetary gain with their findings. When taking on a behemoth such as the NFL a united front was critical and it wasn’t always forthcoming.