The Fainaru brothers have done it again

Posted on December 11, 2013

Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, authors of League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth. (Photo by Brad Mangin)


Unless you have been living under a rock the past several years you have read the work of Marin County brothers Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, or you have seen them deliver hard-hitting investigative pieces on television. Lately the Fainaru brothers have been all over the place talking about their new best-selling book League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth. In this meticulously researched book Mark and Steve expose the NFL as an example of the most evil type of corporation that exists in America today. The NFL is all about the money, and cares little about the athletes who give their lives to play the game they love. For years the NFL refused to acknowledge that playing the game of football, and the repetitive blows to the head that occur every day in practice and every Sunday during games, led to brain damage.

This book sets the record straight as it tells the story of many former NFL players whose lives have been ruined, and ended prematurely thanks to the game of football and the denial of a $10 billion industry that looked the other way for decades. I just finished reading the book, and although I am not surprised by the arrogance of the NFL, I am sad that there are people at the corporate level who will do anything to cover their ass to protect their financial future. The NFL has been ripped in the past for various reasons, but the back story the Fainaru brothers uncovered about criminal disregard for the safety of their own players has to be the worst of all their foibles.

Quarterback Steve Young of the San Francisco 49ers lies down on the ground hurt during a game against the New Orleans Saints at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California in 1999. (Photo by Brad Mangin)

I have had the pleasure of knowing Mark and Steve for a long time, and there are not two other investigative reporters I trust more covering sports today. I first met Mark way back in the summer of 1990 when we were both young staffers working for Frank Deford at The National Sports Daily in San Francisco. I was the staff photographer and Mark was the beat writer covering all of our Bay Area teams. The esteemed Ray Ratto was our local columnist. Our dream job lasted exactly one year, till the paper folded in 1991. After that Mark worked for several Bay Area newspapers and put his incredible baseball skills on display during a memorable sun-drenched afternoon at Candlestick Park in 1993. It was the annual Bruce Jenkins media hard ball doubleheader against the San Francisco Giants front office, and Mark’s heroics are still etched into my memory. Mixed in with forgettable at bats by scribes like Bud Geracie (wearing a Brooklyn Dodgers hat for some reason), Mark showed off the best left-handed swing I have ever seen from a sports writer, all the while wearing a sweet pair of bright red spikes. To top it off he made the best catch I have ever seen ANYONE make in center field while fighting the Candlestick winds in game two.

Mark went on to make national headlines in 2007 when he co-wrote Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports with his San Francisco Chronicle colleague Lance Williams. The book rocked the sports world and changed the game of baseball as we knew it. Since then he has left the Chronicle and joined ESPN as an investigative reporter.

Steve Young fans and San Francisco 49ers in fans hold up a sign that says “It’s not worth it Steve” during a game against the Carolina Panthers at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California in 1999. (Photo by Brad Mangin)

Steve had an illustrious newspaper career with early stops at the San Jose Mercury News and Boston Globe. He eventually landed with the Washington Post, where he won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for his investigation into the U.S. military’s reliance on private security contractors during the Iraq war. That same year Steve authored a terrific book, Big Boy Rules: America’s Mercenaries Fighting in Iraq.

With their successful track records, the pairing of Mark and Steve is a dream partnership that was bound to happen eventually, and it all came together with League of Denial. I cannot imagine the research that goes into a project like this, but the number of interviews they conducted that contributed to this fast-paced narrative is mind-boggling. The book starts by chronicling the tragic fates of players like Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster, who was so disturbed at the time of his death he fantasized about shooting NFL executives. The book gets more and more fascinating as the evidence piles up relating football-caused concussions to brain damage as the NFL continues to deny, deny, deny.

Junior Seau of the San Diego Chargers yells during the exhibition game against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California on August 11, 1999. (Photo by Brad Mangin)

Here in the Bay Area we followed the story of 49ers quarterback Steve Young, who retired from the NFL in 1999 after suffering the last of many concussions over his long career. Young is quoted extensively in the book, and his stories brought back memories of local fans begging him to retire, rather than suffer further injuries to his head. We did not know as much about concussions then as we do know, but luckily for Young and his fans common sense prevailed and he quit while he was ahead.

Former San Diego Chargers great Junior Seau ends the book with the tragic tale of his suicide, and the mad scramble for his brain by various research groups trying to make their mark by being the first to claim that Seau had CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy).

By the time I finished League of Denial I was more disgusted with the NFL than I ever have been. I have been turned off by the league of late, especially after experiencing game day first hand as a photographer in recent years. The league has changed so much since I covered my first game in 1986. The corporate frauds marauding as VIPs on the sidelines before and during games, the money, the arrogance, and the feeling that they can do whatever the Hell they want to do has put the NFL at the top of my list of what is wrong with American sports.

Bravo to Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru for taking on the NFL. There are legions of players and fans who should thank them every day for the work they put into exposing the NFL. I couldn’t be more proud to call these guys my friends.

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