The long-anticipated and hotly-debated new documentary “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis” finally debuted last night on PBS, with public interest and critical attention at a fever pitch after ESPN (foolishly) tried to dilute the film’s impact but withdrawing its name and support for the collaborative investigation last month. As we discussed in an earlier post, the ensuing controversy only garnered more publicity for the film when ESPN backed out of the project under pressure from NFL executives.
In tackling America’s most powerful sport, media critics, sports commentators and work injury attorneys alike noted the incriminating – and rather convincing – ways that the documentary traced links big money and exploitation of NFL players. Yet many predicted that the controversy would blow over fairly quickly as fans were ultimately lulled back into their recliners by this undisputed national pastime.
But after the airing of “League of Denial” last night, a number of commentators feel that a sea change could be on the horizon. Just how bad does the film make the NFL look? Put it this way: when an organization is repeatedly compared with Big Tobacco of the 1960s, their PR team has every reason to be worried.
To some, the NFL did supply the documentary with a “surprise ending” in the form of a $765-million settlement covering 4,200 former players whose careers have left them with brain damage (not to mention all the smaller instances of on-the-job injuries, workers’ compensation cases, and L&I claims from this bloody contact-sport).
Yet as the documentary (and many other quality reports) make clear, the settlement does nothing to address unanswered questions about football’s harmful effects and widespread injuries. Nor should it comfort parents who are skeptical about the safety of football for their developing kids.
In short: the trauma of playing professional football – frequently referred to as a “collision sport,” rather than simply a “contact” sport – has serious health consequences that are verified by medical researchers and well-known to a large number of former players (as well as their widows). Most troubling is the fact that the NFL took deliberate steps over the years to cover up those findings, from discrediting researchers to appointing a doctor with no background in neuroscience to head its investigation committee.
Pro Football’s motivation to conceal the truth is unsurprising. As Watergate’s famous informant “Deep Throat” famously put it: Follow the money. With the NFL now a multi-billion dollar industry, no one expects anything less than a massive defensive blitz that will rival anything ever aired on Monday night football.
A full review of the documentary can be read in Variety.