I just finished reading LEAGUE OF DENIAL : The NFL, Concussions, and The Battle for Truth by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru. It was published by Crown Archetype (part of Penguin-RH; division of Bertelsmann). The book was edited by Mauro DiPreta. The agent is Scott Waxman.
I want to rave about this wonderful book.
This book is an indictment of the executives that ran the National Football League and especially former commissioner Paul Tagliabue. They systematically covered-up, ignored and stonewalled anyone who had researched and had proof that former players were prone to severe brain damage from playing football. The evidence is overwhelming that football (played the way it was with devastating head to head hits) causes players to literally lose their minds.
The NFL knew this and for almost two decades stopped anyone who tried to bring it up. Slate aptly compares the NFL actions to Big Tobacco. They created their own board, hid the truth and finally had to come clean.
The book also tells the story of Mike Webster, one of the great centers of all-time. He was a key player on the 4-time SuperBowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers (74-75-78-79). “Iron Mike” was one of the toughest to play the game. He was smart and a team leader. But after his playing days ended, he changed. He ended up broke and homeless. A shell of himself. He had lost his mind from hundreds of hits to the head. He had to fight the NFL for years to just get some disability payments. He got about $600 a month. He died at 50.
The NFL is the richest sports league in the entire world. They generated over $9-billion in revenue last year and Forbes states they could hit $25-billion by 2027. The NFL is a juggernaut in many ways. Their TV deal is enormous, their merchandising is huge and the ratings continue to rise. The SuperBowl is the single biggest sporting event in the world. I am a fan. I watch most Sundays, some Mondays and occasionally on Thursdays.
A PBS Frontline documentary was made from the book. It premiered last month (OCT 2013). Although it was widely touted and reviewed, I have not seen it yet. I actually “read the book, before the movie.” Their website has this amazing interview outtake with Oakland Raiders HOF center Jim Otto – another one of the toughest. Otto says, “we were gladiators. We played until we could no longer go on.” Otto’s mind is sharp at 75. He took a pounding and is beat up physically, but he is resilient and lucid. Otto wonders why no one helped Webster.
Although the NFL was horrible and covered up a lot, it wasn’t all the owners fault. The players wanted to play. Sure there was pressure from the powerful head coach and fear of losing one’s job to motivate. It is a tough sport for tough people. A violent game for men who want to beat one another up.
There is progress with new commissioner Roger Goodell. There was a settlement of $765-million. The NFL settled a few weeks before the documentary ran and the book released. A lot of money. Some say it’s enough. I don’t. But it’s a good start. The NFL will eventually pay for more. The game is violent and should come up with a way to help pay for the wounded warriors. Many of these players didn’t get the million dollar contracts and had to continue working. Webster’s initial salary was $16,000. The modern players make millions and can more afford it. But still, some type of overall plan would benefit everyone.
There is plenty of money to take care of them.
Plus it’s just the right thing to do.