clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Mike Webster autopsy 'one of the most significant moments in the history of sports'

New, comments

Authors of the book "League of Denial," ESPN investigative reporter Mark Fainaru-Wada and his brother, Steve Fainaru, recently spoke to NPR about it and the league's efforts to deny a link between concussions and long-term brain damage.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Steelers center Mike Webster played in the NFL for 17 years. He died Sept. 28, 2002
Steelers center Mike Webster played in the NFL for 17 years. He died Sept. 28, 2002
Pro Football Hall of Fame

Steelers legendary center Mike Webster was simply not himself after his career ended. He played 17 years in the NFL, some said it was a few years too many, especially the final ones with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Struggles adjusting to life after football is a common issue with former players, and Webster, the last of the four-ring Steelers from the 1970s, had a tougher time than most. Bad investment deals drained his assets and his rising anger and confusion, according to his wife, led to fits of rage.

They eventually cost him his marriage. Indirectly, football was his life, and it was what cost him his life.

According to a recently published book, "League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions, and the Battle for Truth," the autopsy on Mike Webster, who died at age 50 after a heart attack, revealed chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. The book's author,

Webster was examined by Allegheny Medical coroner's office pathologist Bennet Omalu, the Nigerian-born discoverer of what is fairly considered one of the most important issues in sports today; CTE.

Limiting the medical jargon, when a brain suffers a direct injury, proteins form around the affected area. Those proteins are seen through a microscope as red specs. Healthy brain cells will eventually devour those proteins, but in cases like Webster's, the proteins eventually overwhelm the amount of healthy brain cells available to clear the brain.

Omalu described Webster's brain as one of "boxers, very old people with Alzheimer's disease or someone who had suffered a severe head wound."

ESPN investigative reporter Mark Fainaru-Wada and his brother, Steve Fainaru, have written "League of Denial," and recently spoke to NPR about it and the league's efforts to deny or at least continue to stall on confirming a link between repeated head injuries and CTE.

It's a sobering look at the state of the league in wake of its $765 million settlement with over 4,000 former players who brought a class action suit against the NFL over these issues.

Gary Pomerantz's book "Their Life's Work" details Webster's playing days as well as his final ones, highlighting how Dan Rooney appealed on Webster's behalf for disability benefits - something the league did not immediately grant him.

More from Behind the Steel Curtain: