In the past few years especially, concussions – head injuries in general – have cast a dark shadow on certain corners of the sporting world. As we watch in awe as athletes continue to get bigger, faster, and stronger, we’re simultaneously becoming increasingly aware of the often significant physical and mental toll that’s associated with playing some of these demanding games.
Up North, the issue is typically taken up as it relates to hockey. The NHL is the only one of the four “major” North American sports leagues that (save for nominal penalties) allows bare-knuckle brawling, this while attempting to curb seemingly skyrocketing instances of concussions that occur on the ice between whistles.
In the U.S., while the NFL has enjoyed unprecedented success, it too has had to deal with head injuries becoming a reality of its sport (however hard officials have tried to pretend otherwise). The league has instituted rule changes in recent years to try and crackdown on hits to the head, and this summer, the NFL settled to pay out $765 million to over 4,500 former players who were suing the league for allegedly concealing information about the link between football and long term brain injuries.
In its newly premiered documentary League of Denial, PBS’ Frontline – in conjunction with Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada’s book of the same name – takes a deeper look inside the NFL’s “concussion crisis.” Take my advice, and don’t watch this over lunch. It’s downright stomach-churning stuff. At the heart of the investigation is the revelation that practically every deceased former football player who has had their brain examined by medical experts has displayed evidence of CTE (Chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a progressive degenerative brain disease. The NFL’s response? Until recently, it’s basically been to bury their collective heads in the sand.
Even for football casuals, League of Denial is a fascinating study – one that opens up questions relating to what it is we love about sports, whether athletes should be protected from themselves, the ethics of enjoying entertainment with potentially dire consequences, and the very future of a sport that means so much to so many.
Watch the trailer for the documentary below before traveling to PBS to watch the full film for free.