Chris Strauss, USA TODAY Sports
Despite a withdrawal by original broadcasting partner ESPN in August, the PBS series aired its highly anticipated two-hour investigation League of Denial: The NFL's Concussion Crisis, on Tuesday night. It was a sobering, sad summary of the impact that head trauma has had on various NFL players and an indictment of the league's approach to years of evidence that playing football led to brain disease in a number of former players.
Steve Fainaru, one of the main reporters on the film and book, tweeted last night that the NFL has 85 million avid fans. The ratings for the film haven't been released yet, but I'll be surprised if one million of them managed to watch the investigation on PBS.
USA TODAY Sports' Gary Mihoces wonderfully summarized the documentary, which featured former NFL players Harry Carson, Steve Young and surviving family members of NFL greats Mike Webster, Junior Seau and Ralph Wenzel, earlier this week. But while those people spoke on record for the film, there hasn't been much of a response after its airing from current and ex-players and coaches. As the Q's Chris Korman detailed following last night's airing, Twitter was full of reactions by journalists and talking heads but there was notable silence on the part of the NFL and most importantly, its current workforce.
The film didn't uncover much new evidence that hadn't been reported over the past six years by HBO's Real Sports, the New York Times and numerous newspapers and several documentaries that came before it. What it did do very well was present an organized, factual timeline that tied all of those individual reports together in one of the most detailed summaries on the topic to date, as does the recently released book of the same name.
Despite how poorly the film made the NFL's past actions appear, the league recently settled a lawsuit with former players for more than $765 million without admitting guilt and is in the midst of yet another wildly popular season. By Thursday night's game, the machine will continue rolling, with all of the usual networks, writers and media outlets (this one included) focused on whether Eli Manning and the Giants can finally put an end to their winless season.
Those on-the-field storylines are a lot easier to digest and invest in for the people who love the game. It's much easier for fans, players, media, executives and team employed physicians to not want to own many of the more complicated truths off-the-field.
Matt Schaub, Peyton Manning, Tony Romo and more will likely go back to dominating the NFL headlines by Wednesday afternoon. But if this documentary made even a sliver of the league's fans, personnel and fellow media stop and reflect for a few hours Tuesday night, it was well worth the exercise.
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