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Column: Game must go on in the NFL

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Column: Game must go on in the NFL

Sometimes, the game must go on.

Especially in the NFL, where the games always seem to go on.

The assassination of President Kennedy a half century ago didn't stop the NFL from playing games barely two days later. The tragedy that unfolded Saturday in Kansas City won't stop the Chiefs from taking the field Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium against the Carolina Panthers, either.

A young woman is dead, killed in a shooting that left a 3-month-old baby without a mother. Her killer is dead, too. Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot himself in front of his coach and general manager outside the Chiefs' practice facility.

There's no way to make sense of it all.

But a football will sail into the air and reality will be suspended for a few hours. The Chiefs will find a way to play through their shock and grief.

It seems too soon, yes. It surely is for coach Romeo Crennel.

One day he watches in horror as one of his players commits suicide in front of him - but not before thanking Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli for all they've done for him. The next, Crennel is on the sideline trying desperately to find a way for his underachieving team to win a game they likely have no desire to play.

There's no playbook for this kind of thing, though the initial outcry on social media was for the game to be postponed. But the mayor of Kansas City said it was important for the team to carry on and by the time it was announced the game was a go, the charter carrying the Panthers had already headed west.

As painful as Sunday will be, the NFL got it right. The game itself is about as meaningless as they come, pitting a home team with just one win against a Carolina team going nowhere at 3-8, but it was a game that had to be played.

There will be tears in the stands, hugs on the sidelines. Teammates will grieve and so will fans. No doubt there will be a moment of silence for Belcher and 22-year-old Kasandra Perkins, the mother of their child.

Maybe fans will look at their heroes on the field and realize that they are human, too. Maybe it will put a face on the epidemic that is domestic violence and might somehow help prevent even more tragedies in the future.

How Crennel or Pioli will get through it, I can't imagine. More than likely they will still be in shock from what they witnessed, something so awful that it will surely scar them for life. They weren't harmed, but in some way they're victims, too.

Football is by its nature a violent game, something those involved in the NFL understand all so well. But it's a controlled violence with people watching to make sure rules are enforced and limits aren't violated.

That two people died in a murder-suicide involving a current player isn't an indictment of the NFL because the same kind of crime happens in neighborhoods around the country on an all too regular basis. And there's no empirical evidence to suggest that NFL players are more prone to hurt people than anyone else.

By all accounts, Belcher was a quiet fourth-year player who graduated from the University of Maine with a degree in child development and won a starting spot in the NFL through hard work despite not being drafted.

``He was a good, good person ... a family man. A loving guy,'' said family friend Ruben Marshall, who said he coached Belcher in youth football on Long Island. ``You couldn't be around a better person.''

Pictures on Perkins' Facebook page show a seemingly happy couple cuddling their infant daughter.

But things aren't always as they seem, especially in the NFL. We see the players making big checks and driving big cars, but it's a tough job to get and a brutal one to keep.

The pressures to perform are immense, the contracts never really guaranteed. A player like Belcher is always one bad game away from getting the ax and being forced to find a new career.

And we haven't even begun to explore the possibility of brain injury. Too many former NFL players have done too many irrational things for it not to be raised as a question. Belcher was listed in a 2009 injury report as being limited in practice because of a head injury but not much else is known.

There are no easy answers.

So they will play a game Sunday. As difficult as it will be for the Chiefs, it won't be easy for the Panthers, either, playing through a delicate situation they never could have imagined.

The fans will come to cheer, but hopefully they also come to reflect, too.

In the midst of a miserable season for the Chiefs, nothing can be more miserable than this.

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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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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Pre-draft workouts begin; Michigan's Moe Wagner goes 1-on-1

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USA Today Sports Images

Wizards Tipoff podcast: Pre-draft workouts begin; Michigan's Moe Wagner goes 1-on-1

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, Chris Miller caught up with Michigan star Moe Wagner after his workout with the Wizards.

Chris and Chase Hughes also gave their impressions of the first prospects to come in for pre-draft workouts, including which guys are most likely to be Wizards. One of those prospects is a point guard and a likely first round pick. Chase and Chris explain why that's not a crazy idea, even considering the presence of John Wall on their roster.

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!

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Redskins still absorbing rule changes involving kickoffs, contact with helmet

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Associated Press

Redskins still absorbing rule changes involving kickoffs, contact with helmet

The NFL has passed two major on-field rule changes in the last two months. One, the rule that prohibits players from lowering their helmets to initiate contact with another player. That one passed during the spring meetings in March but it was just recently clarified. The other one changes how kickoffs are executed. 

Both rules, designed to make the game safer for the players, could have a major impact on the game. And the Redskins are still a little unclear about how to handle them. 

Safety D.J. Swearinger is one of the Redskins’ hardest hitters. After saying that the helmet-lowering rule, which is outlined in some detail in this video from the NFL, would not affect him because he hits low, he wondered why he was even wearing a hard hat at work. 

“I’ve got a helmet on, but I can’t use it or hit nobody with it, might as well take the helmet off if you ask me,” said Swearinger following the Redskins’ OTA practice on Wednesday.

As of Wednesday afternoon, coach Jay Gruden had not yet been filled in on the details of the helmet-lowering rule. He said that the team will sort it out over the three and a half months between now and the start of the regular season. 

“The lowering of the helmet, I don’t know which ones they decided to go with, so we’ll see,” he said. “I know there’s been a lot of talk about bull rushes and they’re trying to obviously protect the players, but we’ve just got to be careful.”

Gruden said that special teams coach Ben Kotwica went to meetings to help hash out the kickoff rule. What they ended up with looks a lot like another special teams play according to the player who will be executing the kickoffs. 

“It looks like they’re trying to make it more like a punt,” said kicker Dustin Hopkins. Among the similarities are that the kicking team will not be able to get a running start as the kicker approaches the ball. They will have to be stationary a yard away from the line where the ball is until it is kicked. 

The league probably will be happy if the play does more closely resemble a punt. The injury rate on punt plays is much lower than it is on kickoffs. 

Some believe that this change will lead to longer kickoff returns. Gruden didn’t disagree, but he said that he needs more information. 

“I think without the guys getting a running start, number one, it could be,” he said. “I think it’s just something I have to see it before I can really make any judgments on it.”

The new rule prohibits wedge blocking meaning that you are unlikely to see any offensive linemen on kickoffs as they were used primarily to create or break wedges. 

“I think for the most part, you’re going to see more speed guys,” said Gruden.

The Redskins will start to wrap their heads around the new rule during the next three weeks, when they have their final two weeks of OTAs and then minicamp before the break for training camp. Gruden said that they will continue to work on it in Richmond. He said that the joint practices with the Jets and the four preseason game will be important for sorting out just how the team will implement kickoffs. 

The best way to handle it might be to just let Hopkins pound the ball into the end zone every time. Last year 72.5 percent of his kickoffs went for touchbacks. He could have had more touchbacks, but he occasionally was told to kick it high to force a return with the hope of getting better field position. But if the rules lead to longer returns it may not be worth the risk. 

More 2018 Redskins

- 53-man roster: Player one-liners, offense
- Tandler’s Take: Best- and worst-case scenarios for 2018
- OTAs: Practice report: Smith sharp
- Injuries: Kouandjio out for the season

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.