Recently the television network PBS and the investigative news program Frontline aired a documentary on the concussion issue of football in general and the National Football League more specifically. I would like to encourage everyone, whether you are a football fan or not, to watch “League of Denial” an in-depth look into what the League knew about concussions and when did they know about the possible long term effects of concussions on former players like Pittsburgh Steelers player Mike Webster. More than 15 months in development the documentary was originally a collaborative partnership between ESPN and PBS and was timed to be broadcasted in the shadow of a potentially damaging lawsuit by almost 4,500 former players against the NFL.
I played a role in the project not only being on camera sharing my own personal experiences as a linebacker playing football but also by helping PBS promote the project with their supporters, the media those in the retired players community. The issue of concussions in football and the possible long term effects is one that is near and dear to my heart. Over the past two decades I have attempted to bring that subject matter into the mainstream discussions of sports related topics especially in regard to former football players who have played and are now experiencing the lingering effects of concussions they sustained and to alert parents of the possible dangers for young players prior to taking the field to play football.
Over the years, in my efforts to speak out loud on concussion, I have grown to understand that it was not always politically correct to speak critically of a sport I made my living from for many years. Fortunately (or unfortunately) as a former Captain of the New York Football Giants I have never been apprehensive to speak of what I perceive to be the truth. Whether I had to go before the New York media and be accountable about how my teams played (back in the day) or today, to speak of the concussions I gave and received as a result of playing football as well as the lingering effects of those concussions later in life, this was one of those issues that I had no problem discussing in any venue.
Having talked about this issue for years to a variety of sources it was important to use the brand of a respected award winning journalistic program like Frontline to continue to share my feelings on a subject that so few people seem to understand. The opportunity to contribute to the documentary gave me a voice to continue to speak for many who played football on all levels but no longer have a voice. That project itself gave my voice a larger platform to speak of what I know for certain about concussions. It was not my intent to use that platform to criticize or knock the sport of football. Instead, it was my intent to use my voice to share my story, give my opinion and allow the viewer to make an “informed” decision regarding their own children playing a sport where the risk of sustaining a neurological injury is very real and much like playing “Russian Roulette.”
Through the “League of Denial” documentary, Congressional hearings from several years ago and widespread information from various media sources, the world now knows that many young men who played football professionally, in college and in high school may have sustained concussions that could or have led to mild or serious neurological issues later in life.
We all should now know that not only is there a physical risk of playing football (injuring a knee, ankle, hip, etc…) but there is also a neurological risk that parents and players may have never thought about before but must now take into consideration to play the sport they love.
Many viewers from around the country who watched the “League of Denial” documentary have contacted me to say “Thank You” for participating in this project and one went so far as to say “You are on the right side of science”. That was a comment that caught me off guard but was much appreciated. My last year playing football was 25 years ago but I know that even though I am very far removed from the playing field my body understands the lingering effects of what took place a long time ago; and fortunately I didn’t have to donate my brain to understand that science!