League of Denial: Uncovering the Truth about the Real Risk of Concussions in American Football
Frontline, a PBS documentary channel, shares the full story of the discovery of the connection between football and CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) in their documentary “League of Denial”, and exposes how the NFL reacted to these findings. Frontline supports their claim by first sharing the story of “Iron Mike” Webster and the effect football had on his brain, followed by the journey of Dr. Bennet Omalu. This man discovered CTE in the brains of football players. Following this, the reaction of the NFL was shared, outlining the strategies they used to try to suppress Omalu’s discoveries to maintain the image of football. They also share the story of Chris Nowinski, detailing his journey to expose the effects of CTE by setting up the Concussion Legacy Foundation. Nowinski was instrumental in obtaining the brains of numerous NFL players for research. Finally, the documentary recounts when the NFL ultimately conceded and agreed to pay retired players “$765 million dollars”. The purpose of Frontline is to relay the connection between CTE and football, sharing the rugged history of this discovery and the many sacrifices that were made for these findings to become public knowledge. Adopting a serious tone, Frontline effectively presents this argument for those interested in concussions and NFL fans, detailing the significant history of concussions and the NFL, along with the sacrifices made by many individuals along the way.
“League of Denial” brings to light how the NFL covered up and rejected any connection between brain damage and concussions for over two decades. The documentary alternates viewpoints, portraying both the NFL’s perspective and the perspective of the people trying to expose their disturbing findings regarding the negative effects football has on the brain. The documentary critically examines how the league used its extensive resources and power to challenge scientists’ research, whilst publishing their own flawed research for public consumption.
How it works
The purpose of this documentary was to open up the public’s eyes and share the long road many have journeyed, illuminating the effects football can have on a person’s brain. Throughout the entire essay, pathos was used to present the history of concussions. For example, strong emotional connections were evoked during the interview of Mike Webster’s family as they shared many stories of Webster’s erratic behavior and his life spiraling downhill. His family was nearly brought to tears explaining what had happened. Mike’s wife Pam stated, “Mike wasn’t Mike. He was angrier quicker than before, and didn’t have the patience to have, you know, the kids on his lap or take a walk with the kids. He didn’t have that stamina physically.” Pathos was apparent throughout the entire documentary. Many personal and heartbreaking stories of people who had been affected by CTE were shared, but one of the most gut-wrenching was the story of a high school student who passed away ten days after suffering a concussion. The irony and outrage were revealed here that the young man’s death could have easily been avoided if the proper precautionary steps had been put in place. It’s ironic that such simple steps could have marked the difference between life and death. Furthermore, logos strengthened the argument with statistical evidence. Findings showed 110 out of 111 brains examined were diagnosed with CTE and not only NFL players were being harmed. The evidence of the eventual astronomical settlement figure of “$765 million dollars” is staggering. Viewers would obviously feel pity for the families that had endured so many trials due to the effects of football, tragically, trials that could have been prevented. Pity then heightens to outrage as these eyewitnesses add ethos—credible real-life stories added to the medical expertise of Dr. Omalu that document the truth about CTE. The revelation that if the NFL had humbled themselves and accepted the connection between CTE and football earlier, lives may have been saved. The high school player who perished due to playing football could have survived if knowledge of concussion dangers had been shared. His parents might still have their son with them today.
Another rhetorical device used to promote the message was powerful imagery, like Roger Goodell showing up to the trial in a grand style. “The commissioner arrived like a celebrity, the star attraction at the hearing and the focus of all the cameras,” the essay states. The NFL is obviously a phenomenon and one of the largest organizations in the world, a world of celebrity athletes. Yet, glory leads to a tarnished facade, as even in a time of vulnerability, everyone from the NFL is shown smiling. These smiles became symbols of denial as, even though all of these families have suffered from CTE, the NFL kept smiling.
League of Denial highlights the effects of CTE in football and the refusal of the NFL to accept responsibility. The documentary was effective due to the use of various rhetorical devices that connected the viewer to the effects CTE had on the victims and their families. It successfully shared the history of concussions and the NFL, along with the sacrifices made by many people along the way.