NFL, union try to change culture on concussions


NFL, union try to change culture on concussions

NEW YORK (AP) A high-profile rookie quarterback gets slammed in the side of the head and his Super Bowl-winning coach describes him as ``shaken up.''

An All-Pro receiver admits to getting ``my bell rung pretty good'' as being part of the game, and if a player gets concussed, ``you've got to keep on playing.''

NFL executives want to change the culture of the league - and all of football - to reduce head injuries. So far this season, there's evidence it's going to be a tough road.

``The challenge is everywhere and for everyone in the sport,'' says perennial Pro Bowl defensive back Troy Vincent, now a league executive. ``It's a shared responsibility and a personal accountability when you participate in this game, no matter what level.

``A culture change must come on the grass roots level, in Pop Warner, in high schools, in the colleges, and in the NFL. It has to be the parents, the coaches, the players, anyone in charge, so player safety becomes a learned behavior.''

League executives seem more apt to claim progress and insist their perspective is not influenced by the 3,500 ex-players suing the NFL for mishandling or ignoring head injuries. Players are more ambivalent, critical of the league yet also giving it credit - and recognizing they play a risky game.

``I think a lot of that by the NFL is done just to protect their own hides,'' says Broncos linebacker Keith Brooking, now in his 15th NFL season. ``I mean, obviously with the lawsuits and the media attention that concussions are getting currently, it's all about the dollar, it's a smart business move to be proactive in that. But, I mean, in return, what does that equal? It equals taking care of guys more, and as far as the long-term effects, hopefully there will be a difference made as far as our long-term health goes.

``It's positive. But whether it's done from the right initiative I don't know.''

The NFL insists its motives are pure, and believes its health and safety policies are working. It cites the thousands of dollars in fines handed out for unsportsmanlike conduct or unnecessary roughness having caused a decline in the number of such hits.

``Guys are going to hit the head of opponents or use their head fewer and fewer times,'' says Ray Anderson, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations who oversees league discipline for safety issues. ``It's definitely encouraging and it's not just occasionally making adjustments, but it's in every game.''

Adds Eagles defensive tackle Mike Patterson, currently sidelined after brain surgery: ``It is being handled as best as possible. We just know that we've got the NFLPA and you know we've got the NFL as well, so they're going to work it out, make sure things are going to be right for the players, make sure the safety for players is right. ... I mean, we have confidence in what they're doing.''

One thing the players' union is doing is requesting that the NFL place independent neurologists on the sidelines of every game and include them as part of the initial concussions examination protocol. For now, when a player shows signs of head trauma, immediate examinations are conducted by team physicians, with the NFL encouraging a conservative, ``safety first'' approach.

Obvious symptoms of a concussion are listed by the NFL as: loss of consciousness; unresponsiveness; disorientation or an inability to respond appropriately to questions; amnesia; headache, nausea and/or dizziness; abnormal neurological findings; or progressive, persistent or worsening symptoms.

An independent neurologist is generally not at the game and is used to examine a player diagnosed with a concussion to determine when he can return to play.

A major obstacle to a culture change, though, is what one agent calls the players' ``gladiator mentality.'' Calvin Johnson, the Lions' star receiver who got his ``bell rung,'' added that he can't ``become afraid to go across the middle.''

After Robert Griffin III, Washington's scintillating playmaker, took a hard (but legal) shot to the head and came up woozy, his reaction was straight out of the warrior playbook.

``You want to play and your survival instincts take over,'' he says, ``and it just shows that I care about this team and I didn't want to leave them hanging.''

That outlook, and coach Mike Shanahan's use of such an innocuous euphemism to describe Griffin's condition, worry observers inside the league and out.

``We are the NFL and we should be setting the standard for safety and be the symbol for children,'' says Dr. Thom Mayer, the NFLPA's medical director. ``If we are serious about this, having a player say what RG3 said, what symbol does that send to youngsters?''

And, as Vincent emphasized - supported by current and former players, physicians, even lawmakers - player safety knows no age limits.

Former NFL running back Merril Hoge, who was forced to retire because of concussion-related problems, calls it ``a fallacy'' to think there's a trickle-down effect from what the NFL is doing with concussion protocols. He insists a hands-on approach is required on every level, and points out USA Football's Heads-Up Football initiative that has player safety instructors who teach coaches at their leagues and educate parents and players on the proper way of tackling to avoid injuries.

Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson wants all youth coaches to be certified by the NFL.

Steelers linebacker James Harrison, who estimates he has had ``double digit'' bouts with concussion-like symptoms, believes equipment changes are necessary. He was the first NFL player to wear special, lightweight padding inside his helmet and about 100 other players have joined Harrison.

``If something works, I'm going to use it,'' he says.

Seattle's Robinson wants to see mouthpieces mandated in the NFL and everywhere else.

Several agents suggest that the players' union establish a network of doctors who examine players as they get ready for the draft and remain available to them throughout their pro careers. In that way, they aren't beholden to teams' medical staffs, eliminating any perceived notions that their health isn't the doctors' first priority.

Dr. Gerard Varlotta of the NYU Medical Center's Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitative Medicine, works for several agents, regularly examining their players and handling their medical care from the NFL combine right through retirement. He recognizes the players' concerns about priorities.

``There are trends in the NFL where players are injured and their contracts are not fully guaranteed, so it may be better for the team not to treat their injuries,'' Varlotta says. ``A team may cut a player or treat them and be looking at it from a short-term standpoint, and not long term for the benefit of the player.''

Union doctor Mayer says he's aware of several physicians who perform such services.

Player agent Joe Linta calls for mandatory health and safety seminars at the league's combine in the winter, its rookie symposium in the spring, and at training camps during the summer.

``Players really need to be on the front lines of education on this,'' Linta says.

Certainly most beneficial would be getting players to police themselves - and one another. There are signs it's happening.

``We are seeing a switch in the way players are handling concussions and suspected concussions,'' says Rich McKay, president of the Atlanta Falcons and co-chairman of the NFL's competition committee, which recommends all rules changes. ``A player goes down and we are seeing when he has trouble getting up or there's a problem, other players are pointing to the sideline and telling the coaches to take him out of the game. It's player accountability for each other, and it's a very important part of making that (culture) change.''

Still, it's a violent game at the highest level, played by physical specimens who work themselves into a fervor. Their careers are short, their pain thresholds are high, their dedication to each other often immeasurable.

``The doctors, the medical staff,'' says Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel, who sustained a concussion earlier this month, ``are there to protect you against yourself a lot of times.''


AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton and Sports Writers Dave Skretta, Tim Booth, John Wawrow, Noah Trister, Joseph White and Will Graves contributed to this story.


Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Wizards vs. Hornets: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch


Wizards vs. Hornets: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre, Jr. and the Washington Wizards battle Kemba Walker, Dwight Howard, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night.

Here is all you need to know: TV, live stream and radio info, tip-off time, plus three things to watch:


Where: Capital One Arena
Tip-off: 7 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington (coverage begins at 6 p.m.)
Live stream: NBCSportsWashington.com
Radio: 1500 AM

On a roll

The Wizards have some serious momentum going right now. With an impressive win over the Cavs on Thursday, they have now won three straight games and eight of 10 since John Wall went down with a left knee injury. They had a week off due to the All-Star break, but didn't show any rust at all in their first game back.

The Wizards are now 34-24, 10 games above the .500 mark. They are fourth in the East and could move into third on Friday if they win and the Cavaliers lose. Even with Wall out, things continue to look up for Washington.


Hornets have had their number

The Wizards haven't done so well against the Hornets so far this season. Charlotte has taken both meetings and that includes a 24-point win on Jan. 17. That game featured Dwight Howard taunting the Wizards late in the fourth quarter.

Howard has killed the Wizards through two games with averages of 22.0 points and 14.0 rebounds. Jeremy Lamb (20.0 ppg vs. Wizards) has been a big factor as well as All-Star Kemba Walker (21.5 ppg vs. Wizards).

The last time these teams played about a month ago frustrations boiled over in an incident that got Tim Frazier ejected. Michael Carter-Williams picked a fight with Jason Smith and Frazier went off:


Hornets coming in hot

The Hornets are outside the playoff picture at the moment at eight games below .500, but they have won two straight games and Walker and Howard are coming off huge games. In a win over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday, Walker dropped 31 points and Howard grabbed 24 rebounds.

Those guys will be riding a high coming into Washington on Friday. But it should be noted that Howard complained after the game how tired he is at this point in the season. That exhausion could affect him more in the second game of a back-to-back.



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Need to Know: The most overrated Redskins events of 2017

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Need to Know: The most overrated Redskins events of 2017

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, February 23, 19 days before NFL free agency starts.

I’m out this week so I’ll be re-posting some of the best and most popular articles of the past few months. Some may have slightly dated information but the major points in the posts still stand. Thanks for reading, as always.

The overrated Redskin moments of 2017

Originally published 12/30/17

Sometimes in the NFL, something happens that grabs headlines and appears to be a momentous event that has ripple effects that will last all season and perhaps beyond. Other times something that is greeted with a yawn by fans and the media turns out to be something with lasting impact. Yesterday we looked at three events that were underrated at the time they happened. Here, in no particular order, are three overrated events from 2017.

Beating the Raiders—At the time, the Raiders were 2-0 and they still had the status of being one of the favorites to get to the Super Bowl. The Redskins whipped them 27-10 and the prevailing view was that the Redskins were on their way to a special year. But that loss started a four-game losing streak for the Raiders. They are currently riding a three-game skid and at 6-9 they are contenders for a top-10 draft pick, not for the Super Bowl. The win became less impressive for the Redskins as the year went on.

Signing Terrelle Pryor—There was plenty of excitement when the Redskins signed the Browns wide receiver, who had 1,000 receiving yards catching passes from a sub-mediocre group of quarterbacks in Cleveland. Imagine what he could do with a quality QB and a good offense around him. The hype grew when a fan captured him making this catch in training camp:

But the production was not there. In nine games before going on injured reserve with an ankle injury, Pryor caught 20 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown.

Su’a Cravens departure—There was a lot of concern about issues both on and off the field when Cravens abruptly let it be known to teammates that he intended to retire just after the Redskins finalized their 53-man roster on September 2. All offseason Cravens’ name had been written at the top of the depth chart at strong safety in Sharpie. When he walked away and was put on the Exempt/Left Squad list (and eventually on the Reserve/Left Squad list, ending his season), there was plenty of speculation about whether the organization botched the situation and, of more immediate importance, what would happen at safety without Cravens. We’re still not sure about what happened but Montae Nicholson and Deshazor Everett did a respectable job at safety.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.


Days until:

—NFL Combine (3/1) 6
—NFL Draft (4/26) 62
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 198