Current and former Eagles discuss football, future amid 'alarming' CTE study

Current and former Eagles discuss football, future amid 'alarming' CTE study

This is the time of year usually reserved for folks to get excited about football. Training camps around the NFL are back and it won't be long before the 2017 regular season starts. 

This week, though, the beaming sun of training camp was put on hold as the NFL's black cloud came back into focus. 

"That's the elephant in the room that a lot of people don't want to talk about," Brandon Graham said on Wednesday. 

More troubling results about the correlation between playing football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) were published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association

The study examined the brains of 202 deceased football players and showed that 177 of them suffered from the brain disease. Of the 111 brains from former NFL players, 110 of them were diagnosed with CTE. 

It's necessary to remember that many of the families of players submitted their brains because of symptoms shown while they were still living. So the study wasn't just a random one of a cross-section of football. 

Still, it's scary. 

It's scary for those players who have already retired and are either starting to feel the effects or are morbidly awaiting their arrival while hoping they don't come. And it's scary for current players who wonder what their quality of life will be like in 25 or 30 years. 

On Wednesday, as the Eagles' veterans began to arrive at the NovaCare Complex, several were asked about the study and about their thoughts on CTE and the NFL. 

Malcolm Jenkins hadn't yet read the study by the time he entered the locker room on Wednesday afternoon, but was quickly filled in about its results, about the 110 out of 111 NFL brains to show CTE. 

"That's probably what I assumed anyway," Jenkins said. "But at the end of the day, everybody who puts on a helmet, puts on shoulder pads, has to kind of weigh their own options, weigh the risk-reward. As long as you can make that educated decision, I think it's up to the individual."

Jenkins said he "100 percent" thinks about how long he wants to play in the NFL. For him, it's all about weighing the risk vs. the reward. Jenkins' goal is to play at least 10 years in the NFL — this will be Year 9 — and then analyze it year to year. Jenkins, who has other interests outside of football, most notably his foray into fashion, said he tries to take steps to ensure his body is taken care of. The scary part about CTE, though, is that the symptoms sometimes show up much later. 

Now 29, Jenkins is a father. Would he let his kids play football? 

"Yeah, I would let my kids play," he said. "Simply because, obviously, that's a huge risk, but the amount of things this game has given me, the amount of lessons it's taught me, I wouldn't change a thing. I think there's definitely value in this game. There's a reason that it's the highest grossing game out there. The amount of things that I've learned playing this game that have transitioned off the field into life itself is something I would always encourage."

Like Jenkins, Lane Johnson's goal is to play at least 10 years in the NFL; this will be Year 5. But unlike Jenkins, Johnson said he might actually want to steer his son to play basketball instead of football. "They get all the guaranteed money nowadays," he said. 

But if his son did want to play football, Johnson wouldn't stand in his way. 

"Yeah, I'm not going to force him into anything," Johnson said. "But if he wanted to, yeah. But there's definitely safety measures, the right way of tackling, the right way of hitting. There are ways around it."

Even knowing what he does now, Johnson said he'd still play football. He claimed to love the game too much to think about doing something else. 

"It's probably not going to affect us so much now, but come back when I'm 50 and do an interview and see if you can tell the difference," Johnson said smiling, before turning serious. "It's definitely concerning. It's alarming." 

The brains of offensive linemen in the study showed the highest percentage of CTE diagnoses, which didn't come as much of a surprise to right guard Brandon Brooks.

Brooks, 27, and entering Year 6, explained: "Because we're hitting our head every play. Running the ball, pass blocking. I think the kind of misconception is that people like safeties, receivers get the big hits, but it's not the big hits. It does have a correlation, but if you're getting your head hit every play constantly, whether it's practice from when you're a little kid up until now, or in the games, obviously, it's going to have some type of effect."

Brooks has had one documented concussion in his career but admitted he doesn't know how many other times he's had one and shaken it off. He said as players get older, they start to think about if the risk outweighs the reward a little more. 

But it doesn't change the outlook for his career now. 

"Nah. I'm six years in now," Brooks said. "It is what it is. I look at it like if something were to happen to me, it's more of like a sacrifice for my wife and kids for the future. An opportunity for them to change their life and their futures. As grim as it is to say, I've played long enough that it's either going to happen or it's not. I don't look at it like I'm going to change my career path. I chose to play the game I love."

Graham, like the others, loves football, too, but if he knew everything he knows now about the connection between football and CTE, he'd at least think about it more. 

"I'd probably play baseball," he said. "You're right. I probably would have thought about it a little bit. I don't know. I think the way my attitude is, the way I like hitting people and going out there, man, I don't know. It's kind of tough."

While the players in the locker room have to think about their distant futures, some Eagles greats have to think about the next few years and wonder if CTE will hit them the way it has their former peers. 

Brian Dawkins, Harold Carmichael and Mike Quick all answered questions on Wednesday about the new CTE study. 

"No, it does not [concern me]," said Dawkins, 43, who was known for his violent style of play. "I did everything I could as far as the things that I put in my body to help hopefully offset some of those things. If something happens later on in life, I'll deal with it. But as of right now, I'm a blessed man, being able to still be around football and still help this organization out."

All three men seemed to agree that today's game is safer than when they played. The NFL has taken strides in an attempt to limit heavy blows that could cause damage.  

Carmichael, 67, remembered his playing days when clotheslining players was legal and defenseless receivers were just easy targets. 

"I'm not taking anything away from these guys," he said. "They're still hitting hard, guys are still playing hard. They're real pros out there still. The rules have changed a lot and I agree with some of the stuff. It helps the guys and protects the guys from really being seriously injured."

Quick, 58, also acknowledged the rule changes the NFL has implemented, but noted there doesn't seem to be any way to completely eliminate the concussion danger in football. It's always going to be a physical game. 

Quick was asked how lucky he felt to not feel any CTE symptoms. 

"Well, who knows? I don't know if I can say I'm not dealing with it," he answered. "I think my life's pretty good. But I don't know what it's going to be like five years from now, 10 years from now. Of course, I had concussions like many other guys. I played in the league for nine years. Don't know what the long-term effect is going to be on me. I don't know."

NFL Notes: Raiders' Marshawn Lynch suspended one game for shoving official

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NFL Notes: Raiders' Marshawn Lynch suspended one game for shoving official

NEW YORK — Oakland running back Marshawn Lynch was suspended for one game without pay by the NFL on Friday for shoving a game official during the Raiders' victory over Kansas City on Thursday night.

Lynch was ejected from the game after he shoved line judge Julian Mapp.

The scuffle started when Oakland quarterback Derek Carr was hit late on a run by Kansas City's Marcus Peters midway through the second quarter. Raiders offensive linemen Kelechi Osemele and Donald Penn immediately confronted Peters, and Lynch sprinted onto the field from the bench to join the fray. Mapp tried to break up the fight, but Lynch pushed him and grabbed his jersey. Lynch also got a personal foul.

NFL vice president of football operations Jon Runyan wrote a letter to Lynch, saying:

"You made deliberate physical contact with one of our game officials as he was diffusing an active confrontation between players. You were disqualified for your inappropriate and unsportsmanlike actions. Your conduct included pushing the game official and grabbing his jersey. ... You were not directly involved in the active confrontation that the game official was attempting to diffuse, nor were you a participant in the play that initiated the confrontation. You were the only player from either team who ran from the sideline to midfield to insert himself into a situation in which he was not directly involved."

Lynch will be eligible to return to Oakland's active roster on Oct. 30, the day after the Raiders' game against the Buffalo Bills (see full story). 

Packers place QB Aaron Rodgers on injured reserve
GREEN BAY, Wis. — The Green Bay Packers placed Aaron Rodgers on injured reserve Friday after the quarterback had surgery on his broken collarbone.

Rodgers would be eligible to return from injured reserve after eight weeks and able to return to practice after six weeks. But coach Mike McCarthy has said that there is no timeline for Rodgers' return, and that the two-time NFL MVP might miss the rest of the season.

"Everything went very well is my understanding talking with (team doctor Pat McKenzie), and he's recovering," McCarthy said Friday morning. The Packers did not practice Friday.

The procedure on Rodgers was done Thursday outside of Green Bay. He was hurt in the first quarter in a 23-10 loss last weekend to the Minnesota Vikings.

Rodgers posted an Instagram message early Friday thanking well-wishers for their "love, support, thoughts and prayers" in a photo of himself in a hospital bed (see full story).

Injured QB Jameis Winston will start against Bills
TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Bay's Jameis Winston tested his injured throwing shoulder in practice and will start Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills.

Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter made the announcement Friday after the third-year quarterback worked with the first-team offense for the first time since spraining his right shoulder during last week's 38-33 loss at Arizona.

Winston was limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday, taking "mental reps" while backup Ryan Fitzpatrick prepared to face the Bills.

"Jameis threw the ball well today," Koetter said following the team's hour-long practice at One Buccaneer Place. "Jameis is our starter. He will be out there."

Winston has made 37 consecutive starts after entering the NFL as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft (see full story). 

Getting over gut-punch loss of Chris Maragos no easy task for Eagles

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Getting over gut-punch loss of Chris Maragos no easy task for Eagles

It was late last Thursday night in Charlotte, well after the celebrating in the locker room subsided and well after most of his teammates had already gotten on the bus to take them to the airport. 

Eagles special teams captain Chris Maragos, with a heavy brace on his right leg, emerged from the visitors' locker room and limped through the cement bowels of Bank of America Stadium. The pissed off look plastered on his face as he left the field after injuring his right knee in the fourth quarter had given way to a look of resignation. He knew. 

Maragos was officially placed on injured reserve Thursday, which means the Eagles will have to continue what they hope will be a magical season without one of their unquestioned leaders. 

"It was rough, man," said fellow special teamer Najee Goode, who collided with Maragos on the play that injured him. "That's my dawg. Chris is a beast. He brings a lot of energy to special teams. But we're going to replace him. He's still going to be there, making sure we do what we need to do." 

If any team is prepared to get over the loss of a player like Maragos it might be these Eagles. They've already survived — thrived, really — after losing Darren Sproles, Ronald Darby, Rodney McLeod, Fletcher Cox, Jordan Hicks, Lane Johnson and Wendell Smallwood for varying lengths of time. 

But like when they lost Sproles for the season, the Eagles are going to miss more than just Maragos' on-field play. He's also the captain of Dave Fipp's excellent special teams' group. Maragos, one of five captains on the team, said at the time he was voted a captain that it meant more to him than any other accomplishment in his career. 

And that's saying a lot. Maragos' story is pretty amazing. He was originally a wide receiver in college until then-Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema saw Maragos track down a DB after an interception and moved him to defense on the spot. Eventually, Maragos worked his way into the NFL as an undrafted free agent and eventually won a Super Bowl with the Seahawks before coming to Philly. 

Early in his time with the Birds, Maragos actually played a significant role on defense. But when the new coaching staff arrived, it was clear his role would be on special teams, so he threw himself back into it. And he's been incredible. 

Last November, Maragos signed a three-year, $6 million extension that goes through the 2019 season and was already off to a good start in 2017. He led the Eagles in special teams snaps with 126 (74 percent) and was tied for the team lead in special teams tackles with six. 

How the heck do you replace that? 

"I don't think you'll ever be able to fill Chris' role," tight end and special teamer Trey Burton said. "He plays such a big role on special teams. He was able to do so much, but we're going to have to do something. Everybody's going to have to step up."

Head coach Doug Pederson said it will be "tough" to replace Maragos, but the team will probably do it with a committee approach at first. That means more Corey Graham and Jaylen Watkins. Even recently signed draft pick Nate Gerry will have a role if he's active. 

Perhaps the bigger loss will be Maragos' leadership. He's one of just five players on the team who has won a Super Bowl, and he's always happy to answer any questions his teammates have — about football or life. 

In his absence, Goode said he and Burton will attempt to fulfill that leadership void as much as possible. 

"It's really tough," Burton said. "That's my best friend. Him not being here, being around as much. It's tough for him too because he's out of the loop on things and doesn't really know. He would love to be here and in meetings and stuff but he's not going to be able to."

While Maragos won't be around for a while, Burton expects him to visit more once he's healed more. And he'll certainly be watching. 

"Heart's heavy, but I lift my eyes," Maragos tweeted Thursday. "I'll miss being out there with my brothers but I promise you this, I'll be back stronger!"

That's good news for 2018, but the Eagles will have to go the rest of the season without him. Maragos apparently had a message for his teammates. 

"He knows injuries happen," Goode said. "We play full speed and that's something that comes with the game. His whole thing — Chris is a great team dude — was that we keep propelling and keep getting better for the future."