League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions, and the Battle for Truth

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“PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL PLAYERS DO NOT SUSTAIN FREQUENT REPETITIVE BLOWS TO THE BRAIN ON A REGULAR BASIS.”
So concluded the National Football League in a December 2005 scientific paper on concussions in America’s most popular sport. That judgment, implausible even to a casual fan, also contradicted the opinion of a growing cadre of neuroscientists who worked in vain to convince the NFL that it was facing a deadly new scourge: A chronic brain disease that was driving an alarming number of players -- including some of the all-time greats -- to madness.
League of Denial reveals how the NFL, over a period of nearly two decades, sought to cover up and deny mounting evidence of the connection between football and brain damage.
Comprehensively, and for the first time, award-winning ESPN investigative reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru tell the story of a public health crisis that emerged from the playing fields of our 21st century pastime. Everyone knew that football is violent and dangerous. But what the players who built the NFL into a $10 billion industry didn’t know – and what the league sought to shield from them – is that no amount of padding could protect the human brain from the force generated by modern football; that the very essence of the game could be exposing these players to brain damage.
In a fast-paced narrative that moves between the NFL trenches, America’s research labs and the boardrooms where the NFL went to war against science, League of Denial examines how the league used its power and resources to attack independent scientists and elevate its own flawed research -- a campaign with echoes of Big Tobacco’s fight to deny the connection between smoking and lung cancer. It chronicles the tragic fates of players like Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster, who was so disturbed at the time of his death he fantasized about shooting NFL executives; and former Chargers great Junior Seau, whose diseased brain became the target of an unseemly scientific battle between researchers and the NFL. Based on exclusive interviews, previously undisclosed documents and private emails, this is the story of what the NFL knew and when it knew it – questions at the heart of crisis that threatens football, from the highest levels all the way down to Pop Warner.
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About the author

Mark Fainaru-Wada is an investigative reporter for ESPN. With his colleague Lance Williams, he co-authored the New York Times best-seller "Game of Shadows -- Barry Bonds, BALCO and the Steroids Scandal That Rocked Professional Sports." He lives in Petaluma, California, with his wife Nicole, son Max and daughter Ella.
 
 Steve Fainaru is an investigative reporter for ESPN. While covering the Iraq war for the Washington Post, he received the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for his investigation into the U.S. military’s reliance on private security contractors. He lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife Maureen Fan, and son Will.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Three Rivers Press
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Published on
Oct 8, 2013
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Pages
432
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ISBN
9780770437558
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Language
English
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Genres
Medical / Sports Medicine
Sports & Recreation / Football
Sports & Recreation / Sociology of Sports
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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There are tens of thousands of them in Iraq. They work for companies with exotic and ominous-sounding names, like Crescent Security Group, Triple Canopy, and Blackwater Worldwide. They travel in convoys of multicolored pickups fortified with makeshift armor, belt-fed machine guns, frag grenades, and even shoulder-fired missiles. They protect everything from the U.S. ambassador and American generals to shipments of Frappuccino bound for Baghdad’s Green Zone. They kill Iraqis, and Iraqis kill them.


And the only law they recognize is Big Boy Rules.


From a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter comes a harrowing journey into Iraq’s parallel war. Part MadMax, part Fight Club, it is a world filled with “private security contractors”—the U.S. government’s sanitized name for tens of thousands of modern mercenaries, or mercs, who roam Iraq with impunity, doing jobs that the overstretched and understaffed military can’t or won’t do.


They are men like Jon Coté, a sensitive former U.S. army paratrooper and University of Florida fraternity brother who realizes too late that he made a terrible mistake coming back to Iraq. And Paul Reuben, a friendly security company medic who has no formal medical training and lacks basic supplies, like tourniquets. They are part of America’s “other” army—some patriotic, some desperate, some just out for cash or adventure. And some who disappear into the void that is Iraq and are never seen again.


Washington Post reporter Steve Fainaru traveled with a group of private security contractors to find out what motivates them to put their lives in danger every day. He joined Jon Coté and the men of Crescent Security Group as they made their way through Iraq—armed to the teeth, dodging not only bombs and insurgents but also their own Iraqi colleagues. Just days after Fainaru left to go home, five men of Crescent Security Group were kidnapped in broad daylight on Iraq’s main highway. How the government and the company responded reveals the dark truths behind the largest private force in the history of American warfare. . . .


With 16 pages of photographs
 

In the summer of 1998 two of baseball leading sluggers, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, embarked on a race to break Babe Ruth’s single season home run record. The nation was transfixed as Sosa went on to hit 66 home runs, and McGwire 70. Three years later, San Francisco Giants All-Star Barry Bonds surpassed McGwire by 3 home runs in the midst of what was perhaps the greatest offensive display in baseball history. Over the next three seasons, as Bonds regularly launched mammoth shots into the San Francisco Bay, baseball players across the country were hitting home runs at unprecedented rates. For years there had been rumors that perhaps some of these players owed their success to steroids. But crowd pleasing homers were big business, and sportswriters, fans, and officials alike simply turned a blind eye. Then, in December of 2004, after more than a year of investigation, San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams broke the story that in a federal investigation of a nutritional supplement company called BALCO, Yankees slugger Jason Giambi had admitted taking steroids. Barry Bonds was also implicated. Immediately the issue of steroids became front page news. The revelations led to Congressional hearings on baseball’s drug problems and continued to drive the effort to purge the U.S. Olympic movement of drug cheats. Now Fainaru-Wada and Williams expose for the first time the secrets of the BALCO investigation that has turned the sports world upside down.

Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroid Scandal That Rocked Professional by award-winning investigative journalists Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, is a riveting narrative about the biggest doping scandal in the history of sports, and how baseball’s home run king, Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants, came to use steroids. Drawing on more than two years of reporting, including interviews with hundreds of people, and exclusive access to secret grand jury testimony, confidential documents, audio recordings, and more, the authors provide, for the first time, a definitive account of the shocking steroids scandal that made headlines across the country.

The book traces the career of Victor Conte, founder of the BALCO laboratory, an egomaniacal former rock musician and self-proclaimed nutritionist, who set out to corrupt sports by providing athletes with “designer” steroids that would be undetectable on “state-of-the-art” doping tests. Conte gave the undetectable drugs to 28 of the world’s greatest athletes—Olympians, NFL players and baseball stars, Bonds chief among them.

A separate narrative thread details the steroids use of Bonds, an immensely talented, moody player who turned to performance-enhancing drugs after Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals set a new home run record in 1998. Through his personal trainer, Bonds gained access to BALCO drugs. All of the great athletes who visited BALCO benefited tremendously—Bonds broke McGwire’s record—but many had their careers disrupted after federal investigators raided BALCO and indicted Conte. The authors trace the course of the probe, and the baffling decision of federal prosecutors to protect the elite athletes who were involved.

Highlights of Game of Shadows include:

Barry Bonds
A look at how Bonds was driven to use performance-enhancing drugs in part by jealousy over Mark McGwire’s record-breaking 1998 season. It was shortly thereafter that Bonds—who had never used anything more performance enhancing than a protein shake from the health food store—first began using steroids. How Bonds’s weight trainer, steroid dealer Greg Anderson, arranged to meet Victor Conte before the 2001 baseball season with...

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The riveting, unlikely story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the pathologist who first identified CTE in professional football players, a discovery that challenges the existence of America’s favorite sport and puts Omalu in the crosshairs of football’s most powerful corporation: the NFL
 
Jeanne Marie Laskas first met the young forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu in 2009, while reporting a story for GQ that would go on to inspire the movie Concussion. Omalu told her about a day in September 2002, when, in a dingy morgue in downtown Pittsburgh, he picked up a scalpel and made a discovery that would rattle America in ways he’d never intended. Omalu was new to America, chasing the dream, a deeply spiritual man escaping the wounds of civil war in Nigeria. The body on the slab in front of him belonged to a fifty-year-old named Mike Webster, aka “Iron Mike,” a Hall of Fame center for the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of the greatest ever to play the game. After retiring in 1990, Webster had suffered a dizzyingly steep decline. Toward the end of his life, he was living out of his van, tasering himself to relieve his chronic pain, and fixing his rotting teeth with Super Glue. How did this happen?, Omalu asked himself. How did a young man like Mike Webster end up like this? The search for answers would change Omalu’s life forever and put him in the crosshairs of one of the most powerful corporations in America: the National Football League. What Omalu discovered in Webster’s brain—proof that Iron Mike’s mental deterioration was no accident but a disease caused by blows to the head that could affect everyone playing the game—was the one truth the NFL wanted to ignore.
 
Taut, gripping, and gorgeously told, Concussion is the stirring story of one unlikely man’s decision to stand up to a multibillion-dollar colossus, and to tell the world the truth.
 
Praise for Concussion
 
“A gripping medical mystery and a dazzling portrait of the young scientist no one wanted to listen to . . . a fabulous, essential read.”—Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

“The story of Dr. Bennet Omalu’s battle against the NFL is classic David and Goliath stuff, and Jeanne Marie Laskas—one of my favorite writers on earth—makes it as exciting as any great courtroom or gridiron drama. A riveting, powerful human tale—and a master class on how to tell a story.”—Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit
 
“Bennet Omalu forced football to reckon with head trauma. The NFL doesn’t want you to hear his story, but Jeanne Marie Laskas makes it unforgettable. This book is gripping, eye-opening, and full of heart.”—Emily Bazelon, author of Sticks and Stones
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