League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru:
“I don’t think it’s rocket science to say that there’s chronic injury from head injury in football,” Westbrook said. “I mean, we’ve all talked about it.”
It would be years before it was known publicly what Edward Westbrook had concluded about Mike Webster, a period in which the concussion issue would sweep over the NFL like a giant wave and the question of what the league knew about the connection between football and brain damage—and when it knew it—would potentially be worth millions, if not billions, of dollars.
On October 28, 1999, on Westbrook’s recommendation, the retirement board granted Webster “Total and Permanent” disability benefits on the basis of his injuries. A few months later, Fitzsimmons received a letter from Sarah E. Gaunt, the plan’s director, explaining the decision: “The Retirement Board determined that Mr. Webster’s disability arose while he was an Active Player.” The medical reports, including one from the NFL’s handpicked neurologist, “indicate that his disability is the result of head injuries suffered as a football player with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs.” The league’s own disability committee—chaired by a representative of the NFL commissioner and managed in part by the NFL owners, who elected that commissioner—had determined that professional football had caused Mike Webster’s brain damage.
A decade later, as thousands of former players were suing the NFL for fraud, Fitzsimmons, who by then had nothing to do with the lawsuit, would describe that 1999 letter as “the proverbial smoking gun.”