Tagged: nfl

The NFL spent decades campaigning against scientific research

League of Denial,” a new book written by ESPN investigative reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, says the league “conducted a two-decade campaign to deny a growing body of scientific research that showed a link between playing football and brain damage.”

Here’s Don Van Natta Jr.’s summary of the book:

The book, “League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth,” reports that the NFL used its power and resources to discredit independent scientists and their work; that the league cited research data that minimized the dangers of concussions while emphasizing the league’s own flawed research; and that league executives employed an aggressive public relations strategy designed to keep the public unaware of what league executives really knew about the effects of playing the game

The book shares its title with a Frontline documentary premiering next week. ESPN was supposed to collaborate with Frontline on the documentary, but about six weeks ago the sports behemoth abruptly dropped out of the project.

That came a week after four NFL and ESPN muckety-mucks, including NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and ESPN president John Skipper, attended a lunch where the NFL made clear its displeasure with the documentary. ESPN pays the NFL $1.9 billion a year for the rights to “Monday Night Football,” among other things.

The league reached a settlement in August with former players suing over concussions (the lawsuits had accused the league of hiding the known risks of concussions). The settlement was worth $765 million, or about $170,000 per player; the NFL made more than $9 billion in profit last year.

You can read excerpts from “League of Denial” at ESPN and Sports Illustrated. The documentary premieres on Tuesday, Oct. 8, at 9 p.m.

Things Are Looking Up For The Miami Dolphins

After several seasons as one of the league’s most underwhelming teams, and after a long run where South Florida’s professional football team struggled with legitimacy and stability, the Miami Dolphins have finally figured out how to fix things. They will appear on “Hard Knocks,” a show that features only the most desirable and interesting NFL franchises (or, if those teams all said no, the Dolphins).

Nate Jackson gives the NFL’s top picks some advice

Former NFL player Nate Jackson has some advice for Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. He says their transition from college stardom to the NFL will be seamless and easy and there will never, ever be any problems, the end.

(Well, he actually explains how difficult the transition will be, and it’s probably pretty useful advice if you were recently selected with one of the top picks in the NFL Draft. Or if you were drafted at all, really. If you weren’t, the advice probably won’t seem particularly useful.)

Meaningless Game Could Be Shuttered

The NFL’s Pro Bowl is the appendix of the NFL calendar. Nobody likes it. Nobody watches it. Absolutely nobody wants to play in it. This being the NFL, it would be fair to assume they would keep on having the Pro Bowl while jacking up ticket prices and doing whatever the hell they want, because they’re the NFL and that’s just how they roll. But no! The game could be suspended beginning this upcoming season!

The NFL sees a problem and wisely responds to it. I do not know what to make of this. Maybe they figure this one smart move will cushion the blow when they float the idea of a 20-game regular season or some other nonsense down the line. Who knows? All I know for sure is that now we’re all going to have a sudden opening in our calendar in next year, irritating those who have already planned their Pro Bowl Viewing Parties.

Character Issues and the NFL Draft

The NFL Draft is next week, which means we’re right in the thick of the “stupid, baseless character assassination and rumor-mongering” phase of pre-draft hype. Take quarterback Robert Griffin III, Heisman Trophy winner and presumptive No. 2 pick. I don’t know Robert Griffin the Third. Maybe he’s nice, maybe he’s not. All I know is that for months now, the impression of Griffin that has been coming across via the media has been that of a good guy, a good teammate and a good player.

But because the NFL Draft is days away, and because people will report just about anything that relates to the draft (including the endlessly leaked, eminently meaningless Wonderlic scores), now we have our first report of Griffin’s — wait for it — “character issues.”

This happens every year, like clockwork. Last year, Cam Newton was basically hauled into the public square and shamed in the months leading up to (and following) the draft. It didn’t matter. Even thanks to a lockout-shortened offseason that briefly kept him from joining his team, he still had a phenomenal record-setting rookie season. That’s because almost all of the blather is, was and always shall be irrelevant and just a way for teams and agents and players to try and get an edge, any edge, by driving up or down draft stock and salaries, trying to scare off other teams, trying to lobby one team over another and generally do anything they can to get whatever outcome they desire. And because there’s this inexhaustible desire for coverage of anything to do with the NFL and a corresponding paucity of actual news to report much of the time, you get media reports that are about basically nothing.

Meanwhile, an interesting new study suggests that some character issues — the ones that are obvious and out there, because they involve players who have been arrested — don’t matter, so teams should take the chance and draft someone with a criminal history. (It should be noted that “character issues” very often don’t actually relate to actual criminal records, by the way, but rather express generalized concerns that often have nothing to do with anything.) The study looked at every player drafted between 2005 and 2009 and found that the best players to draft were those who were arrested but never charged with anything. This is the result of looking at lots of players, and obviously teams should evaluate each player on a case-by-case basis. But at least these findings come from a study, rather than the simpleminded blathering of a hairdo killing time on ESPN.

Congress will definitely solve the problem of violence in football

Good news, everyone! The scourge that is violence in professional football is about to come to an end. We all had a very good time with the brutality and general mayhem, but we knew the fun had to end sometime.

I don’t normally write much about politics here, because writing “[head explodes]” in every single post might get repetitive after a while. This is a slightly political story because it involves a politician and the government but it also involves sports and whatever moving on, the Associated Press reports:

Sen. Dick Durbin is setting up a Judiciary Committee hearing about bounties in professional football and other major sports in the wake of news that New Orleans Saints players received extra cash for hits that hurt particular opponents.

Setting aside the obvious “Congress doesn’t have anything better to do?” point, I suppose we at least owe Durbin a chance to explain why the upper house is going to spend time discussing the New Orleans bounty program. Maybe he has a really good reason we never thought about!

“Let’s be real basic about it here. If this activity were taking place off of a sporting field, away from a court, nobody would have a second thought (about whether it’s wrong). ‘You mean, someone paid you to go out and hurt someone?'” Durbin said in a telephone interview before raising the issue on the floor of the Senate.

Okay, scratch that. This is about the dumbest explanation I could have possibly imagined, exceeding the “WON’T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN?” reasoning I was actually expecting.

Think about this for a minute: Every week during the NFL season, gigantic physical titans slam into one another with incredible force. The most common way for a play to end is for one player (or more) to physically bring another player to the ground, sometimes by lunging towards him to knock him off his feet. Taking another human being (who is also very strong and highly skilled) to the ground against their will requires physical force, and the act of using force on another person — particularly in this manner — is by definition violent. That is the very nature of the NFL, and even though we only see it every Sunday (and Monday, and also on some Thursdays and Saturdays), it actually happens all the time in practices, tryouts, workouts and scrimmages happening regularly week after week and year after year — and this also happens in college, high school and any other football outfit that doesn’t play touch or flag football.

Consider that “If this activity were taking place off of a sporting field, away from a court, nobody would have a second thought (about whether it’s wrong). ‘You mean, someone paid you to go out and hurt someone?'” quote. That’s an argument for eliminating football (as well as hockey, but nobody cares about hockey), not for looking into the bounty system. Even if the bounty system didn’t exist, some people are still being paid to “go out and hurt someone.” They’re called football players.

Yes, there are players who aren’t in there to hurt people (quarterbacks, running backs, kickers, etc.), but defenses exist in games almost specifically to hurt people. What does the senator think those linebackers are doing when they lunge for the quarterback? Why does he think someone like James Harrison leads with his helmet when making a tackle? It’s not to take someone down in the least violent way and gentlest possible. The league does not reward that; if that were the case, the NFL (or college pigskin, or high school games) wouldn’t have tackle football. They do play with tackles, and it does take a large exertion of effort for one superb athlete to tackle another, and since that’s the case players can/will/have to use as much physical force as humanly possible.

There’s a reason big hits are celebrated (i.e. played over and over during the games and on the highlight reels) and why the players who make them are valuable to teams; if you merely knock the quarteback down, he just gets back up. If you hit him so hard he thinks twice about standing in the pocket and holding the ball, or if you hit a running back so hard he can’t or won’t run as fast or as fearlessly, you give your team an advantage. That is the very nature of football and it’s out there on display in front of millions of people every week — some of them, by the way, the very same writers and NFL employees who profess to worry about “player safety” only when particularly ugly or brutal hits occur, or only when a player is injured.

The ridiculous questioning of whether we would accept this one particular element of professional football (the bounty program, which was wrong but not nearly as out of the ordinary as the sportswriter quasi-intelligensia would have you believe) if it occurred off the field could also be expanded to the entirety of professional sports. “If this weren’t taking place on a basketball court, wouldn’t it be weird that a guy is wearing short shorts and a tank top to work?” But by focusing on this aspect, the Senate will join the NFL in declaring that this one bit of hyper-violence has no place in football, while all of the other hyper-violent acts are fine and just part of the game. Unless they drag every tackler before a subcommittee each time he makes a brutal hit, it’s just another part of the act where people pretend they care about player safety and morality in sports without actually having to care at all.

Huge NFL News, Part Two: Tim Tebow to the Jets

Timothy Tebow has been traded to the New York Jets. The Jets were one of the many teams interested in his services, though considering they just invested big money in Mark Sanchez over the next two seasons they weren’t the likeliest destination. But there you go: Tim Tebow, the biggest story of the 2011 NFL season, is a Jet.

As someone who dislikes the Jets and hopes for nothing but bad things for the franchise, I couldn’t be happier with this move. New York now has three quarterbacks on the roster — two first-round draft picks (Tebow and Sanchez) and one second-round pick (Drew Stanton) — and they still don’t have what could be called a legitimately elite NFL quarterback. It’s amazing. As for the entire team, they have just enough talent to contend, enough star power to draw eyeballs and just enough flaws and problems to fall short.

It’s also good news if you are a fan of Tebow (and as a Florida Gator, my collegiate loyalty means that I am obligated to at least hope for moderately good things for the guy, even if he is an average NFL quarterback). He will have a chance to challenge for the starting job in New York — not early in the season, because Sanchez is the current regime’s guy, but at some point after the Jets drop to 2-3 and Sanchez looks wildly overmatched and also has guaranteed money for this season and next season so he won’t exactly be pushing himself to improve, you know? Tebow was a gigantic story last season — for many reasons having nothing to do with football, but for at least a few football reasons — and you can only imagine the noise now that the New York media has Tebow in their midst.

So this is really a win-win for almost everyone. Denver is rid of Tebow and can move forward. The Jets have a huge storyline that will draw attention without instantly reminding people of the team’s 2011 meltdown. Sanchez has some competition, but not so much that he will be overtaken. Tebow has a major media market he can use to further his fame, profile and influence. The Jets have a player they could either use when Sanchez fails or, more interestingly, they could insert into specific plays for short yardage or goal line situations (much like how the Gators used Tebow during his freshman season; of course, whether or not an NFL team can replicate that depends quite a bit on how much Sanchez can handle being pulled because he’s not a red zone threat). The NFL has Tebow in New York.

The only bad news: This means Tebow won’t be going to a franchise like Jacksonville, which really needed him; even if he wouldn’t have improved their offense that much, he would have still reinvigorated the fan base and made the Jaguars at least semi-relevant. He would have been the focal point for the Jags, on and off the field. In New York, he will be the biggest star on the team but still part of a bigger soap opera with multiple ongoing storylines.

Huge NFL News, Part One: Sean Payton Banned For One Year

Huge NFL news today! Gigantic news! You probably haven’t heard any of it yet because it was all so quietly reported, so here’s the first of two big news items: Sean Payton, head coach of the New Orleans Saints, has been suspended for the 2012 season due to the whole “bounty” controversy.

I never actually got around to writing about it, but the whole bounty thing was an absurdly overblown story. I can understand that it is bad for players to be offered cash incentives to injure other players. I can understand that it is even worse when it becomes an institutionalized process, whereby the defensive coordinator (with the knowledge of Payton and the team’s general manager) is the one setting it up and orchestrating things.

But, ultimately, the NFL is coming down hard for the same reason the media decried this whole thing when the news broke: to appear like they care about violence in football. Football is an inherently violent sport. When football players play defense, even if they aren’t outwardly trying to knock another player out of a game, they are trying to hit another player hard enough to do some kind of damage. The NFL isn’t touch football or flag football. It is tackle football, played by gigantic men who are among the most gifted and oversized athletes on the planet. And when it comes to a playoff game, if your team is facing elimination or advancement, what defender wouldn’t be happy to take out the other team’s star player? If you’re playing the Patriots and you can hit Tom Brady so hard he has to stop playing, that increases your odds of winning. That’s simply the way of the game.

So I think the NFL’s penalty is wildly unfair. Fining them and taking away draft picks makes sense, because they do need to be punished; even if I think the violence is part of football and the bounty system didn’t deviate that wildly from the way the game is played, you do still need to send a message to teams saying that these things shouldn’t be tolerated on an institutional level.

Ultimately, compare this to the Patriots videotaping scandal from 2007. The Saints didn’t gain any real competitive advantage on the field; they merely tried to inflict the maximum level of pain allowed by the game (which is a very high level of pain). The Patriots gained a tactical advantage that helped them figure out how to beat teams before playing. One is cheating, the other is just immoral. The NFL is trying to send a message about player safety here, but the only message I’m seeing is that if you cheat, you get fined and can keep on coaching, but if you do something that offends the morality of the NFL’s commissioner and the media, you get banned for a year.

Peyton Manning is a Denver Bronco

It took them 13 seasons, but the Denver Broncos have finally found another franchise quarterback. Peyton Manning, who is either the best quarterback in NFL history or on any such short list, has selected Denver as his next home.

You will hear a lot about how this improves the Broncos for 2012 and beyond, and about how this reshapes the woeful AFC West, and any number of things. Yet nobody knows what this means, not really. Manning hasn’t played a down since the 2010 season concluded, and has since undergone multiple neck surgeries. The Broncos are getting someone who was an incredibly elite passer without knowing with certainty if he is still an elite passer. Obviously they worked him out, they know his medical history and they have determined that he still has it (or enough of it, anyway). Continue reading