The casket bearing the body of former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster is surrounded by flowers, after funeral services in Pittsburgh in September 2002. Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, authors of League of Denial, point to Webster's autopsy as one of the most significant moments in the history of sports.
When the Pittsburgh Steelers won four Super Bowls in the 1970s, you could argue that no one played a bigger role than Mike Webster. Webster was the Steelers' center, snapping the ball to the quarterback, then waging war in the trenches, slamming his body and helmet into defensive players to halt their rush.
He was a local hero, which is why the city was stunned when his life fell apart. He lost all his money, and his marriage, and ended up spending nights in the bus terminal in Pittsburgh. Webster died of a heart attack, and on Sept. 28, 2002, came the autopsy.
"His body ends up in the Allegheny County coroner's office," ESPN investigative reporter Mark Fainaru-Wada tells NPR's David Greene. "And there's a young junior pathologist there named Bennet Omalu. He makes this decision sort of on the spur of the moment to study Mike Webster's brain."
Fainaru-Wada and his brother, Steve Fainaru, have written a new book called League of Denial, which was also turned into a Frontline documentary on PBS. They take an exhaustive look at how the NFL has dealt with allegations that playing football can lead to brain damage. They interviewed...
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