The PBS investigative series Frontline tackles the NFL's stance on football and brain damage in Tuesday's episode, "League of Denial: The NFL's Concussion Crisis." "What did the NFL know, and when did they know it?" asks Mark Fainaru-Wada, whose just-released book on the subject (coauthored with brother Steve Fainaru) is the basis for the documentary. "It's really powerful to see the depths to which some of the greatest football players have been suffering." Fainaru-Wada says Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster, who was diagnosed with a neurological disease after his death in 2002, brought the crisis into the open, and the documentary examines "the NFL's efforts to attack the science over the years."
Although both brothers are investigative reporters for ESPN, the subject is so controversial that the network — which airs NFL games — ended its 15-month partnership with Frontline and withdrew its name and brand from the two-hour documentary, citing a lack of editorial control. Fainaru-Wada says he and his brother didn't take on the issue to "kill football — we love the sport," but he says that questions are being raised from the youth-sports level to the pros about whether repetitive brain trauma from football can lead to permanent brain damage. "We hope this launches some discussions."