Tuesday evening, PBS aired a special edition of Frontline called "League of Denial". The two-hour broadcast was an investigative piece looking at the NFL's handling of concussions. The two hour program can be viewed online, and I highly recommend checking it out when you get some time. It's lengthy, but incredibly important. Even if you can't watch it in one sitting, it breaks up into enough segments that can watch 30 minutes or so at a stretch.
The NFL recently settled the series of concussion lawsuits, agreeing to a $765 million settlement (plus attorneys' fees). This gets them out of a whole heap of potential trouble down the road. For those wondering why the former players would settle, the NFL has the money to drag this lawsuit on for a long time, and a lot of these players need money now for medical treatment.
If you have not been following the concussion news closely, there is a lot to learn in the show. If you have been following the concussion news, it helps fill in some details. They don't "break" news in this, but rather they put together a well packaged documentary on the timeline of what the NFL claims they knew, and when. Former commissioner Paul Tagliabue in particular comes off incredibly poorly (at one point calling the concussion issue one of "pack journalism", and a "journalism issue" more than anything else).
There are questions of what the NFL knew, and when they knew it. Based on all the information out there, at worst the NFL actively tried to cover up the science. At best, the NFL stuck their head in the sand with the help of fairly shoddy doctors. You can learn about the league's attempts to bad-mouth some of the independent doctors, and openly roll their eyes at the science being presented.
The NFL has started investing fairly heavily in medical research, and has seemed more willing to understand the very real consequences of repeated injuries to the brain injury. At the same time, the concussion lawsuit settlement did not require any admission of the connection. Past NFL doctors have been openly disdainful of the very real science behind all this. The NFL seems to be trying to understand all this, but given their past behavior, it is easy to wonder how serious they really take this whole issue.
SB Nation recently had a chance to interview the authors the book behind the special. One of the authors, Steve Fainaru was asked about the need for change. He had an interesting take:
I'll be perfectly honest: I don't want the game to change. I like the sport, in all its brutality. That's just the way it is. But at the same time, I can hold two thoughts in my mind. I love football, but I recognize now -- as a journalist and as a fan -- that these are real problems, that many of the people who built the league have suffered grotesque and horrible deaths, or have gone through terrible diseases along with those who love them, and that the sport is behind some of these things. The sport has to face that. We all have to face it. To ignore it would be wrong. But part of facing it is to acknowledge that it's real, and for people to know that it's real, and for the scientists to be able to do what they do. And then people can make their own decisions about whether they want to play or not. My guess is that probably 99 percent of the players in the NFL will continue to play, until it's proven that the prevalence of this thing is overwhelming. It's like smoking, in that way. But we're not nearly there yet.
Please take some time to watch League of Denial over at PBS.org.