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An Excerpt From the Book the NFL Doesn't Want You to Read

An excerpt adapted from League of Denial, about the National Football League's long denial about the connection between football and brain damage:

"Nine months later came yet another NFL study in Neurosurgery. This one dealt with repeat concussions. Numerous previous studies had shown that one concussion left the brain vulnerable to another concussion if the brain wasn't given time to heal. But that wasn't a problem in the NFL, according to Pellman, et al. The league looked at how quickly players went back on the field and concluded that they were at no greater risk than if they had never been concussed at all. The logic was that because players returned to the field so quickly, they must have been O.K. or the medical staff wouldn't have cleared them. This flew in the face not only of previous research but of widely known realities on an NFL sideline. First, players often didn't report their injuries. Second, they hid their symptoms whenever they could. Third, NFL doctors often deferred to the wishes of coaches and players.

"For the first time, the NFL also took on the issue of football and brain damage, a growing concern among researchers. The league's scientific opinion? This wasn't a problem in the NFL either. Boxers got brain damage. Football players didn't. It was as simple as that. 'This injury has not been observed in professional football,' Pellman and his colleagues wrote.

"That was technically true: No one had yet cut open the skull of a dead football player to examine his brain for signs of neurodegenerative disease. But that day was coming."
PUBLISHED: Oct. 3, 2013
LENGTH: 20 minutes (5067 words)

How Athletes Get Great

How much of greatness is nature vs. nurture? Sports Illustrated writer David Epstein challenges Malcolm Gladwell's "10,000 hours" rule in a new book about the science of training, The Sports Gene. A lot depends on individual biology, and there are cultural factors, too:

"Usain Bolt is a great example. He was 6’4” when he was 15 years old and blazing fast. He wanted to play soccer or cricket. What are the chances anyone lets him run track in the U.S.? To me, it’s zero. There’s no way he’s not playing basketball or football. Nowhere but Trinidad, the Bahamas, Barbados, and Jamaica would a guy that’s 6’4”, with blinding speed, be allowed to run track instead of something else. People have asked me, 'Should we do genetic screening for the best athletes or at least some sort of measurements?' Yes, measuring kids and trying to fit them into the right sport for their body type absolutely works. That’s why you saw Australia and Great Britain up their medal haul with their talent search programs when they had their Olympics. However, when there’s a sport that’s most popular in an area, you don’t have to do that because you already have the natural sifting program. You don’t have to go hunt for the best football players in America because they’re already going to go play football and then we select them."
PUBLISHED: Aug. 9, 2013
LENGTH: 21 minutes (5302 words)

The Old Man and the Tee

A 29-year-old combat veteran returns home, then decides to try to walk on as a kicker for Wyoming:

"Noble took a job for his uncle's hay-brokerage company, throwing bales from trucks into the barn lofts of thoroughbred horse farms, sometimes 720 of them a day. He told the stories of walking dusty streets and climbing mountains in Afghanistan, of recognizing Coke bottles full of sand with wires sticking out as IEDs. Stories of the other men of 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines, of air strikes and snipers, being on a squad searching for a month for a high-target member of al-Qaeda. Stories of friends getting wounded, and killed. He went to the bowling alley with his old buddies, and patrons stopped to talk to him, and he was feted with free meals and drinks, and when he went to a high school football game, he would be announced, then stand on the bleachers and turn around and wave and feel the applause turn to him instead of the field. The first few months were as though he were home on leave, as though he were still a hero, and then the novelty of his presence wore off, and everything went back to the way it had been before he left.

"He got bored, and he got angry. It felt as if there was nothing for him, as if he were still in high school, hanging out with his old friends, who hadn't changed, and who, as time passed, treated him as though he hadn't either. He went to bars and listened to arguments and complaints about problems that were petty compared with what he had seen. He did not want to be home anymore. 'I'm not the type of guy who goes out to look at the stars and wonder about things,' he says, but one night a few months after he came home, he did just that."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 25, 2013
LENGTH: 11 minutes (2979 words)

Stand Up Speak Out

Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey and Olympic gold medalist Kayla Harrison were sexually abused when they were young. What happened, and how they healed:

"The bad cop finally got through to her when she won the U.S. Open in 2007 and felt absolutely nothing and told him she was quitting for good. He invited her to his house, this silver-haired man with the curt air of an old European farmer bent over his grapes in search of fungus, and he sat with her in his backyard watching the steam rise from a lake at dawn. 'You know, kid,' he said, 'what happened, happened. It was a terrible thing, but some day you have to get over it. It doesn't have to define you. You have a chance to do something great with your life, but I can't want it for you. Terrible things happen to people every day, but they've got to get back up.'

"No magic happened. She wasn't healed. She needed to quit dropping out of therapy and stay with it long enough to dig deeper and see wider. She needed to keep going through the motions long enough to begin harvesting all the fruit that sports dangles alongside its thorns, the sense of purpose and belonging, the team dinners and encouragement and teasing and pranks. But the deep truth of Big Jim's words finally sank into her: Yes, sex abuse had occurred to her, but sex abuse wasn't her. And for crissakes, Kid, stop feeling guilty and put that coach in the slammer before he does it to someone else!

"She wavered, but finally, on a winter day in 2008, she walked into a federal courtroom in Dayton to confront her former coach."
AUTHOR:Gary Smith
PUBLISHED: Dec. 17, 2012
LENGTH: 37 minutes (9332 words)

The Boy They Couldn't Kill

Thirteen years after NFL player Rae Carruth conspired to kill his pregnant girlfriend, the child that survived has been raised by his grandmother:

"To Chancellor, Saundra is G-Mom. Cherica is Mommy Angel. G-Mom talks all the time about Mommy Angel. She keeps pictures of Mommy Angel everywhere. She has even told Chancellor—or Lee, as she now calls him, so he can say and spell his name—a streamlined version of Mommy Angel's story, which is, of course, his own story.

"'Well,' G-Mom says at the table, "he knows that Mommy was killed, and that Daddy did, you know, Daddy did a baaad thing. And he's in jail right now paying for the bad thing that he did. And we just say that he, you know, he made a mistake. Right?'"
PUBLISHED: Sept. 17, 2012
LENGTH: 26 minutes (6642 words)

Life After NFL a Challenge for Many

After retiring from the NFL, a large percentage football players find adjusting to real life a struggle:

"Terrell Owens hasn't officially retired yet, and he already has blown the $80 million he earned during his career. Warren Sapp recently filed for bankruptcy. Former first-round picks Michael Bennett and William Joseph currently face federal charges of tax fraud and identity theft. Not every player falls into these traps, but a 2009 Sports Illustrated study said that 78 percent of NFL retirees have 'gone bankrupt or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce' within two years of their careers ending. 'You're talking about an identity crisis,' said NFL vice president of player engagement and former Pro Bowl cornerback Troy Vincent. 'Every athlete has to face the same question when they're done: "Who am I?"'"
PUBLISHED: May 31, 2012
LENGTH: 10 minutes (2647 words)

To Cheat or Not to Cheat

[Not single-page] Ten years after Ken Caminiti became the first prominent Major League Baseball player to confess to steroid use, a look at four players whose lives and careers were forever changed:

"The 1994 Fort Myers Miracle, a Class A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, included four pitchers of similar attributes. They each threw righthanded, with average velocity, and were either 23 or 24 years old and had been drafted out of four-year colleges in no higher than the fourth round. All would become good friends as they shared the torturous bus rides and even worse food through multiple rungs on the minor league ladder. All clutched the little boy's dream of becoming a big leaguer. Only one of them made it. Only one of them used steroids. Only one of them considered taking his own life. Only one of them harbors enormous regret. The big leaguer, the juicer, the near suicide and the shamed are one and the same."
PUBLISHED: May 29, 2012
LENGTH: 39 minutes (9951 words)


Two of the world's best tennis players meet for a match 1912, just weeks after they both survived the Titanic disaster:

"Now consider a scenario in which two of the survivors were dashing, world-class athletes in the same sport, destined to face off against each other many times. The hype surrounding those matches would be immeasurable. After their playing careers, the two men would be bracketed together—the Ralph Branca and Bobby Thomson of the sea—perhaps cowriting a book, then hitting the speaking circuit.

"A century ago the culture was different. Look-at-me sensibilities were considered gauche. Many passengers lucky enough to have ended up on the Carpathia struggled with what today would be diagnosed as post--traumatic stress disorder. This was especially true for the men, whose survival was seen by some as evidence of cowardice."
PUBLISHED: March 31, 2012
LENGTH: 15 minutes (3944 words)

How Lenny Dykstra Got Nailed

How the former baseball star went from unlikely business success to financial ruin—and now sentenced to three years in prison:

"Even after his financial and legal troubles came to public light, Dykstra refused to give up the trappings of the gilded life. He continued to fly on private planes, and the charges that landed him in prison—many details of which have not been previously reported—stemmed from his apparently insatiable appetite for flashy cars, some of which he obtained using falsified financial documents. 'He had to have all of these trappings to prove to himself he was as good as he thought he was,' L.A. County Deputy DA Alex Karkanen told SI after Monday's sentencing.

"In the unreleased documentary, filmed after his bankruptcy filing, the former Met and Phillie explains the importance of a private plane to his contentedness. 'I said, O.K., I know I'll be happy when I buy my own Gulfstream,' says Dykstra, reflecting on the plane he purchased in 2007. 'But I got down to the end of the nose, I looked back and I said, O.K., happy, come on, come on. So it's not about the Gulfstream. But it is about the Gulfstream. Meaning it just wasn't as good a Gulfstream as I wanted.'"
PUBLISHED: March 7, 2012
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3534 words)