"LEAGUE OF DENIAL: The NFL, Concussions, and the Battle for Truth"
By Mark Fainaru-Wada
and Steve Fainaru
Crown Archetype. 412 pages.
Mike Webster was an iconic center for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs from 1974 to 1990, including the seasons when the Steelers won four Super Bowls.
Webster was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame in 1997.
Known as "Iron Mike," Webster later struggled to overcome long-term injuries. He fought to get the National Football League to pay for health care for himself and hundreds of other former players who also suffered devastating brain concussions, head trauma and other injuries.
Webster was only 50 when he died in 2002, impoverished and mentally-disoriented. The NFL had never given him any money for his injuries.
Testifying before a Congressional hearing in June 2007, NFL officials admitted they had approved health benefits for just 317 out of more than 10,000 eligible retired players.
During the hearing, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., asked, "So in one of the most dangerous sports in the history of mankind, only 317 players are receiving disability from this source -- is that correct?"
Douglas W. Ell, a NFL Players Association lawyer, replied, "Only 317 players conformed to meet the plan's eligibility requirements."
Webster's struggle "would significantly advance the science of concussion and the search for truth about the connection between football and neurodegenerative disease," according to Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru in their new book, "League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions, and the Battle for Truth."
Suffering from so many hits to his head, Webster was "plunging him into a world of delusion, incoherence, self-loathing and rage. It was an increasingly dark world."
The NFL did almost nothing to help him.
Fed by his growing hatred of the Steelers' top management and the NFL, Webster played a major role in informing the public how football could destroy a player's brain and his personal future.
After Iron Mike died, he became a poster child for the potentially devastating effects caused by head injuries from playing football.
In April 2005, a federal judge ordered the NFL to pay Webster's surviving family members nearly $1.2 million in benefits, which increased to $1.6 million with interest, for disabilities he suffered from playing football.Neurodegenerative disease
Webster was the first former NFL player diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a neurodegenerative disease.
Bennet Omalu, a neuropatholgist who came from Nigeria, examined brain tissues from Webster and eight other deceased players. Omalu determined they all suffered from CTE, which typically led to depression, memory loss, dementia, addictions and self-loathing.
Leaders from the NFL and the Players' Association questioned the research done by Omalu and several of his colleagues.
"The NFL's strategy seemed not unlike that of another powerful industry, the tobacco industry, which had responded to its own existential threat by underwriting questionable science through the creation of its own scientific research council and trying to silence anyone who contradicted it," the authors point out.
"Violence, of course, has always been a big part of football's appeal, but it's cinematic and filtered, almost like a war movie."
The dramatic, and noisy, scenes from the 1999 movie "Any Given Sunday" more accurately reflect what actually happens on the field.
The actual full sounds of plays -- of tackles, head-banging and injuries -- are routinely muffled from the ears of the public during TV broadcasts.
A host of other players who suffered from permanent brain damage include: Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach, both quarterbacks for the Dallas Cowboys; Merril<co> Hoge, running back for the Steelers and Chicago Bears; Steve Young, quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Francisco 49ers; Wayne Chrebet and Al Toon, both wide receivers for the New York Jets; and Dave Pear, defensive tackle for the Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders.
After retiring, Pear said, "I wish I had never played.... Don't let your kids play football. Never."
Some players killed themselves.
Dave Duerson, a former safety for the Bears, played 11 NFL seasons and in four Pro-Bowls. By 2006, his life was in a freefall. He killed himself on Feb. 17, 2011.
Junior Seau, a linebacker for 20 years with the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots, was an All-Pro 10 times. After he retired, Seau's finances collapsed and his wife divorced him. He shot himself on May 2, 2012, at 43.