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Column: NFL safety not just a current issue

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Column: NFL safety not just a current issue

Roger Goodell's timing seemed odd, with his Harvard School of Public Health speech on player safety coming after a week in which three starting NFL quarterbacks were knocked out of games with concussions.

No matter, because the NFL commissioner is nothing if not a spin doctor extraordinaire. He cited the fact the quarterbacks were all removed from games as evidence of the progress the NFL has made in identifying head injuries and trying to limit their impact.

``The simple truth is that any physical activity comes with risk and reward,'' Goodell said. ``Head injuries occur in sports.''

They do, though the NFL sure took a long time to admit it. For years the league insisted there was no link between what happened on Sundays on the field and what happened to the brains of players afterward.

The culture has changed, and Goodell wastes no chance to remind us of that. His speech Thursday night touched on everything from player safety in the days before the NFL even existed (18 college players died in 1904 alone) to what the league might be doing in the near future (different helmets for each position, weight limits on kickoff teams) to help prevent devastating head injuries.

The NFL is helping fund studies on concussions, giving $30 million to the National Institutes of Health and teaming with players for another $100 million in similar research over the next decade. There are 100 former NFL players taking part in research led by Boston University to find a diagnosis for the degenerative brain disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, more commonly known as CTE.

New kickoff rules are working to reduce concussions, and others are under consideration. Violent collisions will always be the attraction of the game just as knockouts are in boxing, but it's Goodell's contention that big hits can be managed more safely without changing the game so much that fans won't watch.

Meanwhile, not a game goes by without someone in the announcer's booth talking about the dangers of helmet-to-helmet hits.

``Players and coaches have adjusted. They always do,'' Goodell said. ``We now see fewer dangerous hits to the head and noticeable changes in the way the game is being played.''

The good news for today's players is that there have been some real changes and they'll have a better chance of having a decent life after football than players did before them. That's especially true when it comes to the condition of their brains, though the risk of long term injury remains very real.

Football is still a hurt business, and always will be. Nothing will make it completely safe, especially in an era when players seem to get bigger and faster every year.

But there might come a day when there's enough research and information available so a parent can make a decision on whether their child plays football or not. There might be a time when players themselves can assess their future health risks and decide whether to continue their careers.

That will be good for the game itself, and certainly good for the NFL, which rode the wave of big hits to become by far the most popular sport in the country. No one can guarantee player safety, but it's hard to argue with the league itself making it a priority.

Left unsaid in Goodell's speech, though, was what to do with the players of the past. Not the college players of 1904, but the NFL players of recent decades.

Goodell didn't mention them, and with good reason. Thousands of them are suing the NFL over brain-related injuries, and the NFL is fighting them with all the lawyers it can muster at every turn.

These aren't just practice squad members or fringe players trying to cash in on short careers. There are some big names among the 3,500 plaintiffs, including Tony Dorsett and at least 26 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. One of the plaintiffs, former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling, committed suicide in April at age 62, and an autopsy found he had CTE.

His widow and the other plaintiffs claim the NFL not only exposed players to risk they shouldn't have taken, but deceived them and club doctors by insisting repeatedly that head trauma carried little long-term risk.

``On the NFL's watch, football has become the site of perhaps the gravest health crisis in the history of sports,'' lawyers for the former players argued in motions last month asking a judge to reject the NFL's efforts to dismiss their suits.

The suits have the potential of costing the NFL money, and lots of it. That's why the league has fought them so hard, no matter how at odds the stance is with the current push toward safer play.

One of Goodell's mantras in his speech at Harvard was that the game is evolving, and for the better. Change, he said, can only improve the sport and the league along with it.

He's right about that. But there's something else the NFL can change, too.

Doing something to improve the lives of the guys who helped get the league where it is today would be a good place to start.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org orhttp://twitter.com/timdahlberg

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Bradley Beal makes most of his opportunity in first All-Star Game

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Associated Press

Bradley Beal makes most of his opportunity in first All-Star Game

Bradley Beal may have had a slow start in the three-point contest on Saturday night, but in Sunday's All-Star Game he worked quickly to make the most of his relatively small window of playing time.

Beal checked in for the first time with 5:45 left in the first quarter and less than 25 seconds later had his first points on a two-handed dunk assisted by LeBron James.

In his All-Star debut, Beal helped lead Team LeBron to a 148-145 victory over Team Stephen as the league utilizied a new format for the annual showcase.

RELATED: BEAL BOUNCED EARLY IN THREE-POINT CONTEST

Beal finished with 14 points and a steal in a productive night. He shot 5-for-10 from the field and an impressive 4-for-8 from long range. 

Beal also tried to get a travelling call from the refs on Karl-Anthony Towns. Yeah, that's not likely to happen in an All-Star Game:

Beal more than held his own and only played 16 minutes, which was good considering he has logged the fifth-most minutes of any player so far this season. A realistic best-case scenario was a strong showing and a short night and that's exactly what he got.

Not only does Beal play a lot of minutes, the Wizards need him now more than ever with John Wall's injury. He needs whatever rest he can get during this All-Star break.

Speaking of Wall, he was in the house despite being in the middle of his rehab from left knee surgery. Per usual, Wall was shining bright:

RELATED: BEST WIZARDS/BULLETS MOMENTS ON ALL-STAR SATURDAY NIGHT

The All-Star Game wasn't all about Beal, of course. Here are some other things that stood out...

*The new format and increased financial incentive were intended to make the game more competitive and that's what happened late in the fourth quarter. Usually, that's how these things go where the players will start trying at the end. But this time it seemed to be up a few levels and it was fun to watch. 

Both teams scored in the 140s, so it wasn't exactly a defensive battle. No matter what the league does, the players will only try so hard for so long. The main goal of everyone's is to not get injured in a game that ultimately doesn't count for anything. Still, this was different and appears to have been a success.

*While everyone was focusing on the reunion of LeBron and Kyrie Irving the best beef was Joel Embiid vs. Russell Westbrook. Those two have traded waves to taunt each other at the end of wins in head-to-head matchups and it was clear on Sunday they still don't like each other. Westbrook tried to dunk all over Embiid in the first half, only to get blocked at the rim.

Westbrook's determination to dunk on Embiid was out of the ordinary for an All-Star Game. It was obvious what was on his mind:

*Irving's handles are simply ridiculous. Check out this fake behind-the-back move he pulled with Giannis Antetkounmpo guarding him. Yes, it didn't fool the defender but it was impressive nonetheless:

*LeBron is 33 years old, yet he was still running up and down the court faster than anyone and leaping above the rim to thrown down alley-oop after alley-oop. It is truly amazing and everyone should enjoy watching him while they can, regardless of whether they like the guy or not.

This was one of his dunks:

LeBron took home MVP with a game-high 29 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and a steal.

*The pregame show was quite bad. It was anchored by comedians Kevin Hart and Rob Riggle and, though they had some funny jokes, it lasted nearly 30 minutes. The whole thing was pretty much universally panned on social media. Fergie's national anthem was also roasted by the masses.

*The halftime show was much better. It began with N.E.R.D taking it back to their older days with 'Lapdance,' went to Migos performing 'Stir Fry' and swung back to N.E.R.D. who did their latest hit 'Lemon.' 

RELATED: LATEST 2018 NBA MOCK DRAFT

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The NBA All-Star pregame introductions were, uh, something

The NBA All-Star pregame introductions were, uh, something

Whoever put together the NBA All-Star Game player introductions has some 'splainin to do. 

The NBA introduced a kinda-full Staples Center to their 2018 All-Stars about an hour ago, and boy was it weird. There were a lot of dancers in different themed costumes. Kevin Hart was screaming. Rob Riggle was screaming. Ludacris showed up? Hey! Did you know that the Barenaked Ladies are still a band? The NBA would like you to know they're still around.  The whole thing was like when you're at an art museum and you're told that abstract piece in the corner is actually really meaningful but you gotta be honest, you don't get it. 

Anyways, the internet hated it. Here are some highlights from the internet hating it:

The lesson here is that you never need Kevin Hart and Rob Riggle. One will do.