Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Football Wrap Week 6 Part 2 (Big Hits, NFL)

I was going to do a normal NFL wrapup but the buzz around all of these hard hits and the toll they are taking on players makes me have to address this first.

Football is the biggest sport in America. The NFL is considering 18-game expansion dreaming about the $$$ they're gonna make and how it's gonna feed the insatiable appetite of football fans dreaming about more Sundays. Meanwhile, there's growing evidence that the violence of the game is catching up with the athletes who create it.

GQ had the sports story of the year last October with this piece on CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). It's a long read but it's important. A pathologist has studied 17 brains of deceased NFL players and has seen incredible brain trauma indirectly related to their violent hits suffered in the NFL and outwardly seen in their dementia and strange behavior before their death.

Author Malcolm Gladwell wrote a similar brilliant piece in the New Yorker but took it a step further, comparing dogfighting to football. It's sad when you read some of the parallels he uses, especially when he mentions that dogs enjoy the thrill that comes from the fight and want to fight more when they see their owners' approval or how dogs are fiercely loyal to the cause even though they are in pain.

The saddest story about Chris Henry's tragic death last year isn't that he died at 26 trying to get his life back together. It's that multiple parts of his brain showed signs of CTE despite never having a concussion during his NFL career (5 years) or college career (4 years).

After denying reports, the NFL has slowly taken more precautions with concussions and it's trickled down to college and HS football. I covered a game 2 weeks ago and when a player appeared to have a concussion, the training staff took extra measure to make sure he was treated. They made him walk a straight line, do vocal exercises and other tests before leaving to the locker room. He didn't return to the game but it just showed how serious it is on the HS level.

DeSean Jackson, left, took the worst of a hit by Dunta Robinson (standing) on Sunday

I say this because the NFL thinks that suspending players for big hits is a solution. It's one step but it doesn't go far enough. They and the NFL Players Association need to re-evaluate the equipment and upgrade to helmets that better protect the heads. They also need to consult with a variety of brain experts, starting with Dr. Bennet Omalu who has led the research on CTE. 

It's a catch-22 for them. You can't change the game from what it is, but you can't ignore what's happening because of it. Yet they have to do more than take baby steps because you're playing with people's careers and lives.

It's time the NFL wakes up and protects its best asset - the players. NOT the owners. The strength of their league relies on their players and going to 18 games is not in the game's best interests. It's selfishness and places the careers and livelihoods of their players at risk. 

The NFL cares more about making sure it has a product on Sunday than making sure those who produce are healthy and taken care of. There's already been a slew of stories on former players struggling to pay for their health issues while the league continues to make billions of dollars. What's more important - taking care of the reason you're the #1 sport in America or thinking you can plug anybody in to do it like the Pats did with Matt Cassel a few years ago.

I knew we grew up thinking the NFL was the ultimate warrior's game. People loved Dick Butkus, Ronnie Lott, Jack Lambert and Jack Tatum knock the stuffing out of folks. But the problem is now we're aware of the consequences. There's far too much research to suggest that the warrior mentality of the game has dangerous side effects down the road.

I'm not saying football turns into flag football or 2-hand touch. But I am saying the NFL suspending players for an unusually big hit is a step in the right direction, even if I'm personally iffy on it. After seeing several crazy injuries this year, don't expect me to sit on the sidelines while owners try to overlook a growing body count to argue for adding to the season.

My favorite sportswriter/author right now Dave Zirin offers his similar take on this.

Quick hits
- Cowboys passed on 3rd and 1 with 9 minutes left and punted on 4th and short with 2:46 left. No wonder we're 1-4. That and countless penalties show why the Cowboys are undisciplined and we're spiraling to a bad season.

(This won't be the only time Wade Phillips has pink in his hands. Where's Donald Trump?)

- Chargers lose again to the...Rams? Say it aint so, Sam? Leading the NFL in total offense and defense and we're 2-4? We've been down this road before but this time feels worse.

- Well guess Ben Roethlisberger is back. All eyes on him and the media for how they welcome him back.

- I heard a voice from the heavens Sunday afternoon. The Holy Tebow scored his first TD in the wildcat. Surprisingly I didn't see as much fawning as I thought knowing this would be a part of every Denver highlight.

- So who's the best team in the NFL? The Jets? Patriots after beating Baltimore? The NFC has five 4-2 teams? Take your pick because anyone could possibly be right.


Another 3-1 week makes me feel happy. Had to watch the Titans-Jags game til the end to make sure I won my final matchup (which I did less than a point). Last 3 weeks have seen me rebuild and get back on track in my leagues.

U Mad League (3-3): 2-game winning streak. Beat two of my TX peeps and got a 3rd up next.
South Beach NWO (2-4): My only bad spot. Got blasted by 40 points. Jeremy Maclin's good day wasted.
Fantaball (3-3): My narrow victory. Needed every yard from MJDrew on that final drive cause my opponent had Tennessee's D and kicker.
Sports Guru's League (4-2): Thank you Jets Defense. You've made me quite happy. Next week, I got the #1 team in the league.

Fantasy Fails: Hakeem Nicks with 0. Really? Maurice Jones Drew had a decent week but struggled again.
Fantasy Stud: Besides Jeremy Maclin? Aaron Rodgers and that Jets D. 

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