There appears to be growing evidence that playing football may be linked to long term brain damage. We remember Mike Webster, a 50 year old, nine time Pro Bowl center for the Pittsburgh Steelers who died regrettably penniless recluse, sleeping on the floor of a Pittsburgh train station. We have heard from the NFL time and time again. You're always studying. You're always trying. You're hopeful. I want to know, are you going to pay the injured players and their families for the injuries that they have received and helping you to be a multibillion dollar operation?
I know that you do everything that you possibly can to hold on to those profits. But I think the responsibility of this Congress is to take a look at that antitrust exemption that you have and in my estimation, take it away.
The news you just heard is from 2009 when the House Judiciary Committee addressed the NFL's ever expanding concussion crisis.
Roger Goodell, the fresh faced NFL commissioner, took the stand as Congress bombed him with questions. He knew the line. He had to walk too much denial and the evidence would ruin him, too much acknowledgement. And he risked a guilty sentence. But here he was in the hot seat, answering for the NFL's sins. He took a sip of water and cleared his throat.
As neuropsychologist Bob Stern once said, Goodell inherited a nightmare, truly inherited a nightmare. He inherited a cover up. Welcome to Conspiracy Theories, a Spotify original from past every Monday and Wednesday, we dig into the complicated stories behind the world's most controversial events and search for the truth on Carter Roy.
And I'm Molly Brandenberg. And neither of us are conspiracy theorists, but we are open minded, skeptical and curious.
Don't get us wrong. Sometimes the official version is the truth, but sometimes it's not.
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This is our second episode on the National Football League's concussion crisis. Doctors found that traumatic brain injuries led to a dementia like disease. It was known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. Last time we heard about the retired players who experienced violent bouts of depression from the illness, some cases of the condition led to erratic, life threatening behavior. Other occurrences resulted in tragic suicides. We also met Bennett Mallu, the first scientist to spot CTE in a deceased football player.
Today will investigate three intriguing theories over the controversy. First, that the threat of CTE is overblown and not caused by concussions. Second, the NFL worked alongside the tobacco industry to cover up the science. And finally, that racism caused the NFL to ignore the issue for decades. We have all that and more coming up. Stay with us. In 2002, neuropathologist Bennett O'Malia autopsied the brain of Iron Mike Webster within his cerebral tissue who found CTE, a type of brain damage believed to be caused by repeat concussions.
O'Malia was certain that Webster's skull bashing career is a center in the NFL led to his mental decay.
In 2015, Amala took his research to The New York Times. He advocated that children shouldn't play the sport. The possibility of getting CTE was too great, but his results were widely disputed.
Danny Connell, a former NFL quarterback who was an ESPN commentator at the time, was one of those opposers. He hinted at a greater conspiracy by tweeting The war on football is real.
Concussion alarmists are loving the article liberal media loves. It doesn't matter. It's real.
Perhaps the NFL was right. CTE isn't a symptom of football. Maybe progressives are trying to bring down an all-American pastime. Which brings us to conspiracy theory. Number one, CTE is overblown and isn't caused by head trauma. After all.
To determine if this is true, let's take a look at one high profile case of CTE in 2012.
Twenty three year old Aaron Hernandez was a rising star with a New England Patriots. He played tight end in charge of catching passes from the quarterback and slamming against the defense.
But Hernandez had a violent past, reportedly fraught with depression and paranoia. During the 2013 off season, Hernandez shot Odin Lloyd, the boyfriend of his fiancee's sister. His motive was unclear, but police believe that Lloyd had a secret about Hernandez. He knew he was bisexual near the body.
They found a marijuana cigarette with Hernandez's DNA. Police arrested the athlete after which he was charged, tried and sentenced to life in prison for first degree murder. Apparently, Hernandez's depression didn't disappear behind bars. In twenty seventeen, the 27 year old hung himself with a bed sheet in a cell. He'd scrawled John three 16 on his forehead with a red Sharpie. Other reports described how he'd drawn an illuminating symbol on the wall with his own blood. Conspiracy theorists wondered what these cryptic signs meant.
It took a scientist to provide some answers, Dr. Ann McKee, director of the center at Boston University, analyzed Hernandez's brain. She found the most severe case of CTE ever discovered in someone his age.
His frontal lobe was littered with abnormal collections of tau protein, a signifier of the disease. McKee suspected the abundance of tau had contributed to his lack of impulse control and rage.
It's possible that CTE was what caused Hernandez to kill. But Joe Lockhart, the NFL's executive VP of communications from 2016 to 2018, warned reporters, claiming any attempt to paint Aaron Hernandez as a victim is misguided.
Lockhart had a good reason for saying this. Hernandez had only one documented concussion in his career with the Patriots, and it was often described by the media as minor. Surely not enough to cause massive damage. This also capped with the NFL's reports that football players don't get as many concussions as we think. However, in 2007, Dr. Brock Schnabel and several colleagues published a study in the journal Neurosurgery, which suggested that non concussive hits may also produce severe neuropsychological changes in athletes.
In order to test this, scientists strap devices to players helmets. These gadgets measured their units of linear acceleration otherwise called G forces. Researchers wanted to compare head impact accelerations at different levels of play and at different positions. Overall, they recorded over 54000 impacts for players at the University of Oklahoma during the 2005 football season. While a majority of these hits didn't officially register as concussions, their repetitive nature raised serious questions.
When we think of brain damage, we envision dramatic, gruesome tackles where the victim is carried off in a huge spectacle.
But CTE didn't appear to be caused by one cinematic style concussion. Neurologist believed it was due to repetitive exposure, smaller traumas, game after game, practice after practice, for instance.
A lineman's role is to push against the opposing team defending the end zone or the quarterback. While these players rarely lost consciousness, they were still getting hit in the head with 20 to 30 G's per play. That's up to 31 times a day.
So, yes, Hernandez might have received only one minor concussion during his tight end career, but a snowball of minor collisions likely built up over the years. By the time he went pro, his brain might have been teeming with abnormal accumulations of tau protein, and he was none the wiser.
Even with the available research, the NFL stood by their claims that CTE wasn't caused by head trauma at all. This might sound preposterous, but the NFL actually had their own scientific evidence to support this argument. In 2009, Peter Davies, a leader in Alzheimer's research, examined the same brain samples. O'Malley, who had studied, however, he came to a different conclusion. The abnormal collections of tau protein stemmed from a pharmacological cause, not traumatic events.
In other words, steroids.
In the 70s and early 80s, many NFL athletes used anabolic steroids to enhance their performance. Iron Mike Webster, the first player diagnosed with CTE, was no exception.
Last episode, we spoke about his fellow Pittsburgh Steeler, Terry Long. He was a victim of CTE, who also admitted to using steroids during his career.
In a 2015 study published in the journal PLoS One, Dr. Joseph Maroon and his team noted that nearly 15 percent of all diagnosed CTE cases came with a history of abusing anabolic steroids. But these were just the reported cases. It's possible the remaining 85 percent just never got caught using the drug. While there seemed to be some overlap, researchers wanted to know for certain.
In 2016, a team of pathologists at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver tested this theory further.
More specifically, they wanted to see if steroid use exacerbated damage caused by subsequent concussions.
They gave rodents a cocktail of steroids for seven weeks, followed with a head injury chaser. Later, their brains were autopsied. What they found was that chronic steroid use had made their brains more vulnerable to some types of damage. However, the researchers also concluded that mice treated with steroids didn't display noticeable behavioral changes after they were exposed to head trauma.
Importantly, neither study suggested that the illness could only be induced with prior steroid use. The case of a former offensive lineman named Lou Creekmur provides some insight into that observation after Creek MIRVs death in 2009.
Dr and McKee found traces of CTE and his brain one thing separated him from the giants of the 1990s concussion crisis Creekmur played in the 50s.
Football was a bit different back then. The goalposts sat on the goal line instead of behind. Therefore, a player might one into the pool as they sprinted for a touchdown. But the most important thing to note was that steroids likely didn't reach the NFL until a decade later. Creekmur never used the drug. This means that his CTE came exclusively from the repeat batterings. So while it's possible that the testosterone supplement might increase player's susceptibility to damage, Creekmur is proof that drugs aren't the deciding factor in the development of CTE.
However, the NFL uncovered a third component that could help them dodge the blame. Peter Davies, the expert who came up with the steroids conjecture, also suggested that genetics played a role nearly 10 years later. Other researchers would support Dave's hunch with a cutting edge study. A 2018 study published in the Journal Act, A Neuropathological Communications, found that athletes who carried a variation in the gene that codes for trans membrane protein 106 b were more likely to have CTE.
Aaron Hernandez was one of those players.
It's plausible that the gene variant contributed to Hernandez's mental decline. But it's worth noting that there are other people with the same genetic variation that don't have CTE. However, Hernandez's brain showed a disorder that only arises in a different subset. Those smacked in the skull on a daily basis. The NFL would love to say that CTE is just steroids or genetics or that liberals are waging a war on football, but the reality is more nuanced. Some of these factors may exacerbate the problem, but they don't seem to be the cause on a scale of one to 10 with 10 being the absolute truth.
I'll give this theory a generous three out of 10.
I agree. Head trauma seems to be the biggest culprit in all of these cases. And based on the accelerometer study we mentioned earlier, it's clear that debilitating impacts occur even during routine plays, which is what makes the sport a silent killer. I'm giving our first conspiracy theory that CDs don't come from impact a two out of 10.
After examining this theory, it's easy to see why the NFL wanted to conceal the research. There's no easy way to stamp out the possibility of CTE in football.
Our next theory explores the links that the NFL went through to delay the reckoning as players died. The league fired up a well oiled campaign of disinformation and as it turns out, they might have had help from an unlikely ally. Coming up, Big Tobacco shares their playbook with the NFL. Guilelessness, they say there's someone for everyone, a soul to share your secrets with, a companion to grow old with, a conspirator to commit crimes with starting this February on Spotify, learn about the lethal and legendary lovers who fought the law in the past limited series Criminal Couples'.
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Now back to the story, in 1994, the NFL had a crisis on its hands, football players were getting knocked senseless and sports columnists were calling the problem a disgrace.
Paul Tagliabue, the NFL commissioner at the time, was at a crossroads. He could admit his organization was responsible for the damage. He could wait for the mess to blow over, or he could attempt to hide the truth, mislead the public and discredit the scientists who disagreed.
The final option would take a coordinated effort. Luckily, another industry had already written the disinformation playbook. This brings us to conspiracy theory. Number two, the tobacco industry worked with the NFL to orchestrate a widespread cover up.
In the early 1950s, the tobacco industry faced a different calamity, an epidemic of lung cancer. Early studies showed a link between cigarettes in the metastasizing illness. But instead of changing the product, they used a variety of tactics to hide the problem with lobbying, marketing and faulty research.
Big Tobacco fought to keep the dangers a secret. From 1964 to 2012, nearly 18 million people died from smoking. In the early 1990s, the NFL faced a similar crisis.
Of course, football is wildly different from tobacco. You can't pick up a pack of head collisions from the liquor store.
But in a 2007 congressional hearing, Minnesota Vikings player Brent Boyd pointed out the similarities. He said the NFL was acting just like big tobacco when they battled their connection with lung cancer. He was more right than he knew.
In 2016, The New York Times realized Boyd was right. To an extent, this connection was more than a coincidence. They poured through documents shared between the NFL and tobacco industries. Their correspondence revealed a cohort of the same lobbyists and consultants turned out the two industries were friendlier than they seemed to determine whether this theory is true.
We need to take a closer look at those connections. Just because a few NFL executives grabbed dinner with Big Tobacco's lawyers doesn't mean the industry's joined forces.
You're right. What matters is what came out of those meetings. By 1992, a man named Preston Tesche had made some good investments. He, Cohen, both the New York Giants and a cigarette company named Lorillard. He was also a board member of the Tobacco Institute, an industry trade group that played a role in hiding cigarettes risks.
At this time, concussions were barely a bruise on the face of the NFL, but Tesche saw the controversy looming on the horizon that year. He asked Lorillard general counsel Arthur J. Stevens to send Commissioner Tagliabue some advice. Stevens allegedly gave Tagliabue a plan that could help delay his crisis. But keep in mind, Stevens was no ordinary attorney.
He was a member of the Committee of Counsel, a shadow group of in-house lawyers that was intimately aware of the industry's legal issues and how to defend it against attacks. In other words, he knew the exact strategies the industry used to hide the truth.
The blueprints for those plans began in the early 1950s. This is when scientific evidence against cigarettes started building. So Big Tobacco launched a program with the purpose of eroding trust in science itself.
With the help of a PR company, they formed the Tobacco Industry Research Committee, their supposed mission was to support scientific studies on the effects of tobacco, except the group rarely supported any studies, as the word research would have implied. It seemed their efforts were primarily focused on denying and misleading the public about the facts. If they insisted that lung cancer was caused by, say, pollution or genetics, smokers would keep buying the product.
Knowing how effective that campaign was, Stevens wrote to Tagliabue. He referred him to two court cases where the tobacco and asbestos industries hit the health risks of their products successfully.
Two years later, Tagliabue established the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee, perhaps as a nod to its inspiration, the Tobacco Industry Research Committee. It was through the MTBE committee, a group of scientists, consultants and experts that Tagliabue seemingly waged his war on the truth.
He also drafted the help of tobacco industry veterans. Dorothy S. Mitchell was a partner at a firm that counseled both the NFL and cigarette companies. In 1992, she defended the Tobacco Institute in a landmark second hand smoke case in 1997, when scrutiny of the NFL was heating up.
Tagliabue hired Mitchell to provide oversight for the mild traumatic Brain Injury Committee.
A league spokesman insisted that Mitchell's work was just clerical, but a committee member recalled her coaching them on strategy. She went over points like how the crisis could affect the NFL, how it could be studied, and whether concussions were a legitimate concern to begin with. In other words, she wasn't just making copies.
The overlap between these two industries is hard to deny. They are synchronicities suggests that lawyers like Stephens and Mitchell might have been the real coaches behind the NFL's cover up campaign.
In fact, if you take a closer look at some of the NFL's players, you'll see how they matched up with the tobacco industry's big tobacco was known to fund claims that refuted the cancer connection.
A study or article might look independent from the outside, but in reality, the authors had tar on their hands. The most egregious example of this occurred in 1968. Journalist Stanley Frank unequivocally wrote that there was no proof smoking causes cancer. Later, investigators found that Frank was paid to write that article by a PR firm, the same firm who worked for the Tobacco Institute. Tagliabue may have used this tactic as a blueprint for the MTBE committee. The committee looked aboveboard, but its roster was stacked with men whose livelihoods depended on the NFL.
For instance, many of the members had ties to NFL teams such as the Pittsburgh Steelers Joe Maroon, who joined the committee in 2006. They were responsible for the health of their players and often cleared them to get back on the field. It's no wonder their research showed concussions were no big deal. After all, if concussions were dangerous, the blame would certainly fall back on them.
Additionally, Tagliabue packed the committee with underqualified loyalists. The man he chose to lead the organization was Dr. Elliott Pelman, his own personal physician. Pelman had no experience when it came to concussion research. He admitted that he'd never even worked with a neuropsychologist before.
Pelman was more duplicitous than anyone knew. He'd lied about his credentials. He claimed that he'd received his degree from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. The truth was, Pelman attended medical school in Guadalajara, Mexico, but his experience didn't matter to Tagliabue.
Pelman was a yes man, and perhaps because he had so little understanding of head trauma, he agreed that concussions weren't a concern.
By all appearances, Tagliabue made certain that the MTBE committee only produced results that favored the NFL. But in 2009, after the devastating House Judiciary Committee hearing, the new commissioner, Roger Goodell, restructured the MTBE committee under a new name, supposedly in good faith.
Hopefully, the league could no longer manipulate data with their own research team. They also donated to outside. Research and made small safety adjustments to the game, but the NFL wasn't done taking notes from Big Tobacco. They knew that cigarette companies had poured millions into outside studies that could help their cause. And if the findings weren't in their favor, they could pull the funding and shut the project down. One example of this was the Harvard Project.
In 1972, the tobacco industry granted millions to respiratory specialist Gary Huber after almost 10 years of dedicated science. He found that subjects exposed to smoke developed shortness of breath. This was even true of low tar cigarettes, which had been advertised as a safer product. Soon after Big Tobacco cut the funding, Hueber was pushed out of the field.
In 2012, the NFL pulled a similar move. The league had promised 30 million dollars to the National Institute of Health or the NIH to research head injuries. It was supposed to be an unrestricted gift, but the NIH found the strings.
The institute proposed to study with Dr. Robert Stern, clinical research director of the Boston University CTE Center. However, it was Dr. Stern and Dr. McKee's work at BYU that highlighted the concussion issue to begin with. They were not an ally.
The co-chairman of the league's head, neck and spine committee, Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, pressured the NIH. He told them not to use Stern and tried to discredit him. He and other officials suggested, B, you would be biased and collaborative.
The NIH found no issues with Stern and refused to allocate the study to someone else. So the NFL stripped sixteen million dollars from the program and taxpayers bore the brunt.
The similarities between the tobacco and NFL cover ups are suspicious. Not only was there an overlap of lawyers, but also an instant replay of Big Tobacco's greatest hits.
That said, all we know was that Arthur J. Stevens sent Tagliabue a letter describing two legal cases. We don't have definitive proof that they conspired together. It's more reasonable to think that Tagliabue devised a master plan himself and used his contacts in the tobacco industry for pointers. That's why I'll give this theory a three out of 10.
Personally, I think there's too much overlap for it to be a coincidence. The MTBE committee undermines scientific research and followed the same winning strategy from Big Tobacco's playbook. And they knew how it was done because tobacco lawyer Dorothy Mitchell led the team, which is why I'm giving this theory a seven out of 10.
These cover ups were possible because like lung cancer, CTE is an invisible disease. It's hidden from the eye inside the bodies of these players. However, there could be a very visible factor, one that allowed the public to ignore the problem, the color of an athlete's skin.
Coming up, the NFL's reluctance to confront racism potentially causes them to ignore CTE. Now back to the story. As NFL players grew in size, so did the explosive hits, concussions resulted in microscopic tears to the brain instead of addressing the issue. The league may have mimicked big tobacco strategy, hiding behind denials and misinformation.
In 2009, the league altered the rules to protect athletes from head injuries. But for many players, it was too late. Their dementia ridden futures had been written, and the NFL left them without financial support.
The organization's retirement system was notoriously bad. 16 percent of NFL athletes drafted between 1996 and 2003 filed for bankruptcy when their careers ended. Even the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball, which had far less than the NFL, give their athletes better pension plans.
But there's a difference. The athletes in those leagues are predominantly white. Which brings us to conspiracy theory. Number three, the NFL ignored the problem because concussions were mainly happening to black players.
On May 26, 2020, during the worldwide covid-19 pandemic, one video broke through the barrage of CDC updates.
Officer Derek Shervin drove his knee into the neck of George Floyd for over nine minutes. Floyd begged for oxygen. He eventually died. The video shocked the nation into protest. Citizens demanded that police officers stop murdering the black community.
Corporations of all types publicly stated their support for the Black Lives Matter movement. But the NFL stayed quiet.
A week after George Floyds death, the NFL's commissioner, Roger Goodell, finally broke the silence. In a short video, he condemned racism and assured the public that the NFL believed black lives matter. For many, it was a hollow statement spoken much too late.
The league practically banned Colin Kaepernick in 2016 after he kneel during the national anthem. Kaepernick had also wanted to bring awareness to police brutality. As a result, the organization refused to resign him.
It seemed hypocritical. Texas Longhorns college football coach Tom Herman noted the double standard.
He said, quote, We're going to cheer when they score touchdowns, but are we going to let them date our daughter or are we going to hire them in a position of power in our company? That's the question I have for America.
You can't have it both ways to determine whether race played a role in the CTE coverup. Specifically, we need to zoom out a bit. Let's look at some of the wider disparities in America. On average, the black community in the United States is in worse health than the white community. They die younger than every other group besides indigenous populations.
In 2005, the Institute of Medicine came to a sobering conclusion. Health providers give worse treatment to people of color than others with the same economic status. That means black citizens are dying because of their skin color, not because of their access to health care when it comes to football.
Almost 70 percent of those on the field are black, and yet out of 32 teams, there are only three black coaches. Worse, there are currently zero black team owners in the NFL.
The disparity continues even in our living rooms. In 2013, a study found that 77 percent of NFL viewers were white, an average of forty seven years old and had an annual household income of nearly one hundred thousand dollars a year.
This might not matter if the sport in question was competitive chess, but the warriors in this pit do more than slide pawns around a board. They mutilate their bodies for the entertainment of middle to upper class viewers. In this sense, the NFL seems like a gladiatorial pleasure. Each city with its own Roman Coliseum, each fighter expendable.
If the well-being of black men is ignored in society, it's likely being brushed aside on the gridiron as well. And because CTE is a long term problem, it doesn't affect the coach's immediate ability to win or the team owners ability to profit. The organization could rack up its players, damaging head slams without ever disrupting their bottom line.
Except the NFL has responded to safety concerns in the past. Over the years, the league has banned moves like chop blocks where a player tackles below the waist. If they truly didn't care about the black bodies they employed, they wouldn't install rules to protect them.
The concept of stacking tells a different story. This is when teams allocate athletes to certain positions based on racial stereotypes.
Through much of the league's history, the NFL viewed black athletes as lacking the intelligence and leadership to land football's starring role, the quarterback position.
If they did manage to break through, they were quickly pushed out. In 1968, the Denver Broncos made Marlin Briscoe the first black starting quarterback for the league. His rookie season of fourteen touchdowns blew everyone away and earned him a nickname. The Magician. Despite his magical accuracy, he couldn't make racism disappear. After the season, the Broncos switched back to a white quarterback. He never explained why other NFL teams weren't interested in having a black quarterback either, Briscoe went on to play a different position but lost his passion for the game.
Later, he developed a drug problem. By the time he saw the first black starting quarterback win a Super Bowl in 1988, he was watching from a jail cell.
Racial stacking plays an inverse role as well. And this is where we get to the most damning evidence.
Black athletes take the majority of on field hits. They make up 80 percent of the NFL's defensive tackles. Dr. Kevin Kaskowitz, the research director at the University of North Carolina's Center for the Study of Retired Athletes, suspected that CTE might show up in different amounts based on the player's positions. He looked at the brain scans of 61 former athletes and cross-check the roles they played in general. Linemen like Iron Mike Webster or the worst of it. Athletes in these non speed positions filled by mostly black competitors were receiving truckloads of damage to their frontal lobe, meaning they were more likely to get CTE.
At the same time, the positions filled by white players, kickers and quarterbacks were largely shielded from the trauma that could cause the disease.
We can't deny that the NFL has very few black people in positions of power. It also slots white players into less dangerous positions. But if we want to prove the league ignored the concussion issue because of race, then we need to understand not how, but when they first addressed the crisis.
Prior to 2013, the NFL didn't have a way of knowing whether a player should return to the field or not following a concussion. Many coaches believed if their MVP could blink, run and stay awake, they could play. But the problem wasn't just with those who ran the team. It was with the athletes themselves.
Some have argued that black players who were economically disadvantaged were incentivized to hide their symptoms. If they could continue performing, they could keep getting paid.
Author Michael Denzel Smith wrote For all the expensive cars and frivolous clubbing, these guys are also propping up immediate and extended family on their salaries for too many. This is their answer to debilitating poverty. So what's a little permanent brain damage?
It wasn't until the 90s that the NFL even defined a concussion in 1991, Pittsburgh Steeler Bubby Brister was concussed and pulled from the field. The team's neurological consultant, Joe Maroon, wouldn't clear him to play. The following week, Maroon and the coach got into a heated debate over barista's condition. This exchange led Maroon to create what would later be called impact the league's concussion diagnostics test.
This couldn't have been the first time a hawkish coach wanted a star player back on the field from 1996 to 2001. Doctors return 17 percent of players to the game immediately after concussion. However, Maroon was so cautious with Brister that he created an entirely new protocol because of him. And there's one thing that might explain why Brister was a white quarterback.
If Brister had been black, Maroon might not have paid as much attention through its history. It seemed to be these high profile white injuries that drove the NFL to address the issue, which was certainly the case in 1994.
That year, the Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman took a knee to the temple, landing him in the hospital, then running back. Meryl Hodge retired due to head injury concerns. Both players were white, which meant their stories were published in sports sections everywhere.
Suddenly, it was the season of the concussion.
But the NFL only took action after these high profile white players got hurt. That's when they form the MTBE committee. Black lineman had suffered the same effects for decades prior, but they had to suffer in silence.
It wasn't just the timeline that looked suspicious. The reforms were lopsided as well.
For instance, in 1995, the league rolled out a slew of updated safety rules, except they were mostly to protect defenseless players such as quarterbacks or receivers. For example, competitors could no longer use their helmets to spear someone who is busy passing or catching a ball. It did nothing for the linemen who were turning their bodies into battering rams each game.
Eventually, the league updated its guidelines to apply to tackling positions as well. But this happened in 2013, 23 years later.
Even the CTE research fails black athletes, for instance, a 2012 concussion survey used a sample that was 90 percent white. This phenomenon isn't rare. Black people are often underrepresented in medical research.
So it appears that the NFL only sprung into action once these concussions started affecting white players. In 2013, the league settled a lawsuit for its role in the controversy. It was the closest the organization had come to admitting fault, and it qualified players for up to five million dollars.
It's here that racial discrimination definitely played a role.To get the pay out, athletes had to show proof of cognitive decline in 2019. Black former running back NAHJ Davenport took the assessment. The NFL approved doctor thought his use of language and decision making ability had in fact deteriorated. The physician sent Davenport a letter that said he was eligible. Everything looked good. Then the organization reversed the decision.
They ran Davenports test scores against a set of race specific standards for thinking and memory. However, the benchmarks were lower for the black community, meaning Davenport and thousands of other black players had to show a worse decline to qualify for the same payment.
So there's proof that the NFL has engaged in racist practices such as stacking or denying payments based on skin color. However, there are too many factors to say the league could bury the concussion issue just because these players were black. More likely, it was a larger reflection of prejudice in society.
Although the power dynamics were obvious, white team owners profited while exploiting black pain, which means racism did play a role during the crisis. That's why I'll give our final conspiracy theory. And eight out of 10.
On the other hand, there's a possibility that CTE was ignored just because it was hard to spot the mental decline only showed up years after players retired.
But you're right, the press, public and NFL all prioritized white quarterbacks over black linemen.
Even when the NFL rectified the Cover-Up, they continued victimizing their black athletes. Which is why I have to agree with that.
Eight out of 10, whether updating helmet design or changing kickoff rules. The truth is that concussions cannot be regulated out of football. There will always be a risk as knowledge of CTE hits the mainstream.
Parents are preventing their kids from playing the sport. Permanent brain damage just isn't worth the recreational pastime.
But that's not true for all parents. Many black children in lower income neighborhoods are still signing up for them. It's more than a social event. It's a lottery ticket.
Today, NFL athletes know they risk brain damage every time they strap up for practice, and yet they still play.
And then there's the fans who love to draft their fantasy lineup, buy tickets and cheer as players pummel each other.
So maybe the question isn't why did the NFL perpetrate a cover up?
Maybe we should be asking, why do so many of us crack open beers on a Sunday and continue to celebrate this controversial tradition?
Thanks for tuning into conspiracy theories, we'll be back Monday with a new episode you can find all episodes of conspiracy theories and all other Spotify originals from Paşa cast for free on Spotify.
Until then, remember, the truth isn't always the best story, and the official story isn't always the truth.
Conspiracy Theories is a Spotify original from past. Executive producers include Max and Ron Cutler, Sound Design by Scott Stronach with production assistance by Ron Shapiro, Carly Madden and Freddie Beckley. This episode of Conspiracy Theories was written by Ben Carrow with writing assistants by Lori Gottlieb and Obiageli Idemitsu Fact checking by Bennett Logan and research by Bradley Klein and Brian Peatross. Conspiracy theory stars Molly Brandenberg and Carter Roy. Listeners, don't forget to check out the new precast limited series, criminal couples from apocalyptic cult leaders to bank robbing bandits.
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