Kevin Fixler
    Sport Matters

8 October 2013

The book that will change the way you watch football

I’m unable to watch football these days as I used to. I desperately wish I could, but I just can’t. And after you finish reading this book, you won’t be able to either.

The book is “League of Denial,” from brothers Mark Fainaru-Wada (co-author of “Game of Shadows”) and Steve Fainaru (2008 recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting), and it is one that the National Football League probably wishes was never written. The book explores the football factory that was the city of Pittsburgh, why it became the epicenter of the NFL’s concussion crisis, and how an improbable character by chance flicked the first domino to set off a devastating chain reaction with which the league is still grappling. Since assisting these two ESPN investigative reporters with research on their book, I’ve replaced my weekly excitement waking up in anticipation of an autumn Sunday morning filled with football to one of mostly disgust.

Early on in “League of Denial,” we are introduced to Mike Webster, the Hall of Fame center and linchpin for the dominant Steelers teams of the 1970s and early ’80s that won four Super Bowls. “Iron Mike,” as he was known, was a fan favorite because, dating back to his modest, workman-like Midwestern upbringing, he absolutely epitomized the hardhat population that made up the blue-collar community of the era. He went on to became a nine-time Pro Bowler and five-time First-Team All-Pro, at one point after a contest was held even owned the title of “The Strongest Man in Football,” and is unquestionably one of the greatest to ever play professionally.


The problem, however, was upon Webster’s retirement in 1990 at the age of 38 following two final seasons with the Chiefs, his wife and children immediately noticed a serious change in him. After building what the family thought was their dream home in Kansas City, Webster rapidly transformed into less and less the man they knew and loved. He would suddenly disappear for weeks on end, miss important family events and school functions, often sleep in his pickup during his mysterious sojourns or in bus and train stations along the way, and began to require myriad prescription drugs to even function on a day-to-day basis.

Read the rest of the story on The Daily Beast.

Pick up a copy of the book here, and watch the PBS Frontline companion documentary here.

Follow me on Twitter: @kfixler

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