When the Pittsburgh Steelers won four Super Bowls in the 1970s, you could argue that no one played a bigger role than Mike Webster. Webster was the Steelers’ center, snapping the ball to the quarterback, then waging war in the trenches, slamming his body and helmet into defensive players to halt their rush.

He was a local hero, which is why the city was stunned when his life fell apart. He lost all his money, and his marriage, and ended up spending nights in the bus terminal in Pittsburgh. Webster died of a heart attack, and on Sept. 28 2002, came the autopsy.

“His body ends up in the Allegheny County coroner’s office,” ESPN investigative reporter Mark Fainaru-Wada tells NPR’s David Greene. “And there’s a young junior pathologist there named Bennet Omalu. He makes this decision sort of on the spur of the moment to study Mike Webster’s brain.”

Fainaru-Wada and his brother Steve Fainaru have written a new book called League of Denial — it’s also a Frontline documentary on PBS. They take an exhaustive look at how the NFL has dealt with allegations that playing football can lead to brain damage. They interviewed doctors, scientists, former players and their family members — though, not NFL officials, who declined interview requests to them and also to NPR. The authors point to that autopsy of Webster as one of the most significant moments in the history of sports.

Omalu found Webster had a disease that would be called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy — or CTE. It can cause the behavioral changes that afflicted Webster. He was sure the CTE came from repeated pounding on the football field.

“He thought that well, this is information that the National Football League would probably like to have,” Fainaru says. “He says he thought [the NFL] would give him a big wet kiss and describe him as a hero.”

That’s not what happened. Instead, the NFL formed its own committee to research brain trauma. They sent their findings to the medical journal, Neurosurgery, says Fainaru-Wada. “They publish in that journal repeatedly over the period of several years, papers that really minimize the dangers of concussions. They talk about: there doesn’t appear to be any problem with players returning to play. They even go so far as to suggest that professional football players do not suffer from repetitive hits to the head in football games.”

Over the last decade, the NFL has repeatedly avoided tying football to brain damage, even as they’ve given disability payments to former players with dementia-related conditions.

(Courtesy of npr.org)

The Orthopedic & Brain Injury Law Group of Goldblatt & Associates, P.C. represents the legal interests of those individuals who have sustained traumatic orthopedic and brain injuries due to the negligence of others.  In representing our clients, the firm oversees and handles all aspects of insurance issues ranging from ensuring client’s medical bills are paid and assisting client’s in getting reimbursed for out of pocket expenses, including lost wages.