Frontline‘s documentary League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis investigates how, for years, the NFL denied and worked to refute scientific evidence that playing football is linked to early onset dementia, brain damage and other devastating consequences. The two-hour League of Denial premieres on PBS Tuesday, Oct. 8, at 9pm ET (check local listings).
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What and when did the NFL know about the long-term effects of head injuries on its players? Frontline‘s controversial documentary League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis — made even more controversial after ESPN’s withdrawal from it — investigates how, for years, the league denied and worked to refute scientific evidence that playing football is linked to early onset dementia, brain damage and other devastating consequences. Based on the work of ESPN reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru draws from from more than 200 interviews with scientists, doctors and former players, and includes data from medical records and internal NFL communications.
“We all know football is violent and dangerous; that’s not a mystery,” says Steve Fainaru. “But if it’s shown, or if it’s suggested, that players can come away severely and prematurely brain-damaged as a result of their careers, that’s going to change the way people look at football completely.”
“In every single play, particularly at the line of scrimmage, guys are running into each other head to head, and that’s just the nature of the sport,” says Mark Fainaru-Wada. “And the science is emerging more and more that that’s the very nature of what this issue is about and why the players are going to develop this problem.”
League of Denial looks extensively at the case of Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Famer Mike Webster, who was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The documentary delves deeply into how the NFL responded to scientific evidence that CTE was linked to playing football, often going to great lengths to refute and discredit the research.
League of Denial had been billed as a collaboration between Frontline and ESPN’s Outside the Lines, but ESPN withdrew its participation with PBS in August, citing that ESPN did not have editorial control over the content. The network denied that its business relationship with the NFL influenced the decision, and noted that it has reported extensively and continues to report on the issue of concussions in football.
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