League of Denial

  • by Mark Fainaru-Wada, Steve Fainaru
  • Narrated by David H. Lawrence XVII
  • 14 hrs and 46 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

"Professional football players do not sustain frequent repetitive blows to the brain on a regular basis."
So concluded the National Football League in a December 2005 scientific paper on concussions in America's most popular sport. That judgment, implausible even to a casual fan, also contradicted the opinion of a growing cadre of neuroscientists who worked in vain to convince the NFL that it was facing a deadly new scourge: A chronic brain disease that was driving an alarming number of players - including some of the all-time greats - to madness.
League of Denial reveals how the NFL, over a period of nearly two decades, sought to cover up and deny mounting evidence of the connection between football and brain damage.
Comprehensively, and for the first time, award-winning ESPN investigative reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru tell the story of a public health crisis that emerged from the playing fields of our 21st century pastime. Everyone knew that football is violent and dangerous. But what the players who built the NFL into a $10 billion industry didn't know - and what the league sought to shield from them - is that no amount of padding could protect the human brain from the force generated by modern football; that the very essence of the game could be exposing these players to brain damage.
In a fast-paced narrative that moves between the NFL trenches, America's research labs and the boardrooms where the NFL went to war against science, League of Denial examines how the league used its power and resources to attack independent scientists and elevate its own flawed research - a campaign with echoes of Big Tobacco's fight to deny the connection between smoking and lung cancer. It chronicles the tragic fates of players like Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster, who was so disturbed at the time of his death he fantasized about shooting NFL executives; and former Chargers great Junior Seau, whose diseased brain became the target of an unseemly scientific battle between researchers and the NFL. Based on exclusive interviews, previously undisclosed documents and private emails, this is the story of what the NFL knew and when it knew it - questions at the heart of crisis that threatens football, from the highest levels all the way down to Pop Warner.


See More Like This

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

How to Kill Friends and Influence People

In 2002, Bennet Omalu MD was the medical examiner on call when 'Iron Mike' Webster, a beloved former Pittsburgh Steeler and NFL Hall of Famer, died of a heart attack. Omalu is extremely well educated and trained - he has medical licenses in four states, and he has five board certifications. When he performed the autopsy, he noticed that Webster's medical notes said he'd been mentally deteriorating in the years before his death at 50. Omalu, who was working on a degree in Neuropathogy at the time, decided to preserve and examine Webster's brain.

Omalu grew up and Nigeria and found American Football mystifying. He has "no filters" (Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru's words, not mine); the subtlety of Lady Gaga; and the social grace of Sheldon Cooper of "The Big Bang Theory". Omalu found that Iron Mike had Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Omalu's discovery triggered what's been an 11 year odyssey of denial; brains in the closet, marinating in formaldehyde; finger pointing; brains in the back of a Mercedes; a rheumatologist's (who said he was a graduate of SUNY Stony Brook, but actually went to Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara) attempts to discredit the research results of the best neuroscientists in world; brains of well loved players on slides; the NFL's conversion of "The Journal of Neurosurgery" into mouthpiece; and finally - maybe - the NFL's realization that multiple concussions can, and do, cause CTE. Omalu, like Cassandra, has been dismissed. If this were fiction, it would be a Michael Crichton novel written by that classic conspiracy theorist, John Munch (Law and Order: SVU, etc.). Unfortunately, it's very real.

I fall into the ESPN demographic 'average football fan', but Los Angeles hasn't had a professional team for 18 years, so that's understandable. I go to Monrovia High School Wildcats games, and catch some college and pro games on TV, but I'm no 'student of the game '. I was worried that I wouldn't understand what the Fainarus were talking about in "League of Denial: The NFL Concussions and the Battle for the Truth" (2013), but the football relevant to concussions was so well explained, someone who's never seen a game would understand the issues.

I had the same issue with this book that I did with Delores Kearns Goodwin's Pulitzer-prize winning "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" (2005). "League of Denial" is a great book, but it's not a great Audible book. So many of the 'players' (I mean doctors and scientists here) traded to other teams, I had trouble following who originally had what opinion, and when or why it changed, and who disdained who. I could have used an index, a roster, or - in some cases - a bank statement.

The Fainarus compare the NFL CTE denial to Big Tobacco, but isn't this worse? No one ever thought Phillip Morris was their friend, or spent hundreds of hours in practice and at games with Lorillard.

The Fainarus don't come to any conclusions personally, except that credible research makes it clear concussions2 (squared) = CTE = possible living hell, so terrible a player will suicide - but do so in a way that his brain is preserved to help others. What terrible, final grace.

I have a question, though: I'm a demographic, a 'Soccer Mom.' My daughter plays year round, and at her own request, (after a 13 year old teammate concussed after hitting the AstroTurf-over-cinders-over-cement ground, and sat out a month) wears a helmet. Does that help? Can I do more? The Fainarus make it clear that there's not a true answer to my question yet, even if the helmet manufacturer says so.

I thought the narration was good, and David H. Lawrence has a great voice for a football book. Or a Michael Connelly or Robert Crais thriller. However, there was a weird editing problem: in a couple of places, there was a sudden audio cutoff that made me think I had an incoming call.

[If this review helped, please press YES.]
Read full review

- Cynthia "Always moving. Always listening. Always learning. "After all this time?" "Always.""

Overall, well worth the credit

I approached this book a bit different ( more knowledgeable) than most history books I order - that of being a trial lawyer for 30 years ( personal injury) in which cause of a medical condition ( including dementia-like conditions as causally linked to head trauma) was almost always the issue. It came as no surprise, therefore, to listen that CTE as linked to NFL play was hotly debated. BUT - although I did like the book; although the narration was excellent; and the authors did a very very good job in describing the players for us, their careers and the downturn some of them faced post NFL - their bias was a bit too pronounced. Not a lot, but not insignificant either. They implied throughout that those in favor of linking CTE to football were the good doctors, those which did not were the bad doctors. Listening with " a lawyers ear" ( and I acted for people against insurance companies throughout my career) I thought it was not as clear cut as the authors would have us believe, especially as the majority of NFL players do not develop these symptoms. I also agree with the first reviewer that it was difficult to keep track of which doctor, which opinion. That is not to say, however, that I did not like the audiobook. I did. It is worth the credit.. I found it very interesting, all parts, the whole discusson, especially, to repeat myself, when the player's lives were discussed. I will follow up and research further this topic CTE and the NFL ( starting with the show that " Frontline" did on the book, available via YouTube), which for me is a good sign the book is worth reading.
Read full review

- David P. McGivern "retired litigation lawyer; I read history; historical fiction; literary fiction. Narrator ++ important. Story equally so"

Book Details

  • Release Date: 10-08-2013
  • Publisher: Random House Audio