NFL’s cover-up of brain injuries: will it change football?

Last night, PBS debuted League of Denial, which explores what the NFL knew–but actively denied and even covered up since the 1990s–about the impact of the violent sport on its athletes’ brains, and not just from concussions. The full episode of Frontline, below, is online for free, and is a must-watch for the stories it tells, the evidence it presents, and the implications it has.

The special is based on a book by investigative reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth, which is also out today and says it “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.”

ESPN backed out of the partnership with Frontline because of pressure from the NFL, though both the league and ESPN denied that. The NFL didn’t participate in Frontline’s work, either.

In the documentary, the narrator points out how NFL Films’ work “celebrated the violence and the spectacle,” and that includes one of my favorite series, Hard Knocks. Just yesterday, the same day as the premiere of Frontline, the NFL decided teams couldn’t opt out of being filmed for the HBO series.

The evidence about football’s effect on its players is pretty clear, but the question now is how this information will affect the sport. Will Americans love of the game override concern for its players, professional, collegiate, or youth? Will it change who plays the game? Can we continue to watch while knowing what is happening?

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.