As the long-serving center for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mike Webster was hero in his community. The toughest of the tough, this Super Bowl legend enjoyed phenomenal success during his 17-year professional career. The accolades he received were only surpassed by the number of concussions and other punishing blows he suffered during game play. These blows ultimately took their toll. Webster passed away at the age of 50 after enduring dementia, homelessness, and dwindling mental and physical health. Webster's story opened the doors to the ongoing battle explored in the engrossing Frontline documentary League of Denial.
The battle in question is the one between concerned scientists and mental health advocates and the obscenely profitable National Football League (NFL). The bone-crunching collisions that draw tens of millions of viewers and billions of dollars in profit are also responsible for the early deaths and tragic deterioration of many of its most popular retired players.
After much study, it was determined that the culprit was a condition that had never before been linked to professional sports: a neuropathological disorder known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. Under the tireless advocacy of medical examiner and neuropathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu, the NFL was taken to task for turning the other cheek when faced with irrefutable evidence of what was fast becoming an epidemic.
Much of the film details the David and Goliath tug of war between Dr. Omalu and the NFL, and organization that was fully prepared to go to any lengths to protect their profit margins. This stubborn dismal of the science carried over to the fans themselves. In their view, a wholehearted embrace of the evidence would likely result in an end to football as a popular sport.
The filmmakers speak to a series of scientists - including Dr. Omalu himself - as well as sports writers, agents and high-profile players who have started questioning the end results from a life spent on the gridiron battlefield.
League of Denial is a thorough investigative piece that maintains all the hallmarks of quality associated with the acclaimed Frontline series. It's an epic story that continues to evolve with the scientific research, and it touches important issues related to public health, commerce and popular culture.
Directed by: Michael Kirk