For over 70 years Pittsburgh has done nothing but love their football team the Steelers. Pittsburgh is known to be a tough town with a tough mentality and the way the Steelers play the game meshed perfectly with the people, they love that hard-hitting, punishing, brutal defense that they play. This style of play just fit perfectly into the way they saw their own lives and what they had to be in order to survive, and if there was one particularly iconic player it was no. 52, Iron Mike Webster. Webster exemplified what it was like to be a player in the steel city during the ’70s.
Webster anchored four Super Bowls championship teams, he was a legend and a hero to many. Then 11 years after he retired the people of Pittsburgh received some terrible news. The Hall of Fame Centre Mike Webster died at the age of 50, the news that day would start a chain of events that would threaten to forever change the way that Americans see the game of football. As his autopsy is being carried out the pathologist on call Bennet Omalu immediately was seeing the effects of 17 years in the football wars. Omalu started at his feet and worked his way up, his feet and legs were destroyed, he had several herniated disks, a broken vertebra, torn rotator cuff and separated shoulder, but when Omalu opened up his skull he was surprised to see that his brain looked normal.
What Omalu couldn’t see was that hidden inside Webster’s brain was evidence of a chronic disease and his decision to further examine what on the surface looked like a normal brain would go on to change the NFL forever. It wasn’t long before the organisation was under assault: thousands of players have since claimed the league tried to cover up how football inflicted long-term brain injuries on many players.
What did the NFL know, and when did it know it? In this special two-hour investigation, FRONTLINE reveals the hidden story of the NFL and brain injuries.
Directed by: Michael Kirk