Frontline: League of Denial: The NFL's Concussion Crisis

Frontline: League of Denial: The NFL's Concussion Crisis

Tuesday, October 8, 9:00-11:00 p.m.

Frontline reveals the hidden story of the NFL and brain injuries.

The National Football League, a multibillion-dollar commercial juggernaut, presides over America’s indisputable national pastime. But the NFL is under assault: thousands of former players and a host of scientists have claimed the league has tried to cover up how football inflicted long-term brain injuries on many players.

What did the NFL know, and when did it know it? What’s the truth about the risks to players? What can be done?

In a special two-hour investigation, "League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis," "Frontline" and prize-winning journalists Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru of ESPN reveal the hidden story of the NFL and brain injuries drawn from their forthcoming book, League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth.

The investigation draws on more than 200 interviews with scientists, doctors and former players, including some of the NFL’s all-time greats, as well as previously unpublished medical records, NFL memorandums and e-mails.

“In every single play, particularly at the line of scrimmage, guys are running into each other head to head, and that’s just the nature of the sport,” says Mark Fainaru-Wada. “And the science is emerging more and more that that’s the very nature of what this issue is about and why the players are going to develop this problem.”

The first hour of "League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis," chronicles the discovery of a devastating neurological disease in the brain of the Pittsburgh Steelers legend Mike Webster, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which was likely incurred during Webster’s 17-year NFL career.

As "Frontline" reports, the response from the NFL to Webster’s diagnosis was swift. The league demanded a retraction of the scientific paper explaining the diagnosis, insisted there was no evidence linking football to chronic brain disease, and used its own heavily funded research arm to try to kill the findings and discredit the researchers behind them.

“For the most part, people didn’t want to believe it’s true,” a former team physician for the Steelers tells "Frontline." “They didn’t want to admit to themselves or anybody else that our beloved sport, probably our most popular sport, could end up with brain damage.”

Hour two of the program investigates how the NFL responded to the growing body of scientific evidence that football was putting the brains of its players at risk.

But professional, adult athletes aren’t the only ones at risk. As "Frontline" reports, scientists are finding evidence of CTE in high school athletes, too.

Photo at right: Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame center Mike Webster. Credit: Courtesy of Getty Images/George Gojkovich