Brain and Brawn

To address the perception that brain injuries are epidemic in the NFL, the league donated millions to fund research on the subject. Scientists have learned a lot since, but we still can’t diagnose chronic traumatic encephalopathy in living people, and some players are giving up the game in fear of a disorder that might never affect them.

By 2012, the NFL had a brain problem. Five days before Super Bowl XLIII, in 2009, Boston University neuropathologist Ann McKee held a press conference across the street from Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium to discuss chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Nine months later McKee testified at a congressional hearing, and in February 2010, Time magazine did a cover story on football calling it “The Most Dangerous Game.” Beginning in August 2011 more than 4,500 former players sued the NFL, accusing the league of hiding the dangers of concussions. In May 2012, Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau fatally shot himself, and an autopsy showed he had CTE.

The NFL settled the lawsuit for $765 million in April 2015. That October, PBS aired League of Denial, a documentary based on the book of the same name by Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru- Wada, who detailed what they called the league’s “concussion crisis.” Across America parents were pulling their kids off the field, concerned that the children’s brains and psyches would be permanently damaged. From 2010 to ’12, participation in Pop Warner football dropped 9.5%.

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