Nationals

Column: Goodell an honest broker on concussions?

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Column: Goodell an honest broker on concussions?

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is scheduled to deliver the Dean's distinguished lecture Thursday at the Harvard School of Public Health. The title is ``Leadership on the Road to a Safer Game.''

After the weekend his league just experienced - seven concussions at a minimum, including two quarterbacks who went back into their games for seven and 12 more plays, respectively - it seems fair to ask whether his hosts at the prestigious program considered finding another speaker.

To be fair, some very smart football people considered that total a sign of progress. Not the concussions, of course, but the fact that they were diagnosed and the players sidelined before any further damage was done. Not surprising, either, was the league's pronouncement that in all three cases it looked into - quarterbacks Jay Cutler of the Bears, Alex Smith of the 49ers and Michael Vick of the Eagles - it was satisfied that the proper protocol was followed. Considering where the NFL finds itself at the moment, as the defendant in more than 100 lawsuits from thousands of former players alleging negligence, fraud and concealment, it also seems fair to ask whether Goodell can be an honest broker.

To his credit, Goodell was on the hot seat less than a year when he pushed the league, which was slow to react to anecdotal reports, to begin making up for lost time. Shamed by the emerging science on concussions, and threatened by mounting threats of legal liability, the NFL organized its first conference on the subject in 2007, bringing in experts from outside the league, instituting mandatory brain baseline testing, standardizing concussion reporting and preventive measures, even announcing a ``whistle-blower'' hotline so players could anonymously report if they felt pressured to return to the field. Since then, rules have been changed to reduce collisions on kickoffs and outlaw blows to the head, neck and shoulders.

The problem with too many of those solutions is that while they've had a beneficial effect, the responsibility remained largely with the player. Job security is so tenuous that plenty of them still refuse to report symptoms and a few even let on later that they sabotaged their initial baseline test, setting the bar low enough to give them some leeway when tested in the midst of a game after a head-rattling hit. And even when procedures are followed to the letter, there are no guarantees. Before he re-entered Sunday's game against the Rams, Smith was evaluated on the sideline between the first and second quarters. It was only after he threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree that Smith left the game, complaining of blurred vision. Small wonder the NFL Players Association made noise Monday about asking the NFL to put independent concussion specialists, paid for by the league instead of the teams, to determine whether players should be pulled from games.

Goodell can't legislate cooperation from his players; his only power in those matters is coercion. But he also can't claim the mantle of leadership when he's crammed the games closer together, moving one to Thursday night each week to bolster the NFL Network's profitability, since it also shortens the players' recovery time. He's also pushed for an 18-game season, as if the upward or 20,000 or so collisions most NFL players have sustained by the time they reach the pros weren't enough. Almost as troubling is the leadership role Goodell has embraced at the head of an increasingly disingenuous PR campaign aimed not at the players, but squarely at the fans.

Last month, shortly before reports began circulating about a Pop Warner game in Massachusetts that produced five concussions on a team of 10- to 12-year-olds, Goodell turned up at a youth football program in Virginia to promote the NFL's ``Heads Up Football'' initiative, which purports to teach kids and their coaches tackling skills that would minimize potential head and neck injuries. In a video resulting from a partnership with USA Football - the sport's youth governing body - Goodell says, ``You have to have the right fundamentals. You have to learn how to tackle safely and how to play the game safely.''

The improving science on concussions has already proven that can't be done, especially the way the game is played in the NFL. One former player watched the video, and reviewed it this way on Slate.com: ``As a former head-basher in NCAA football, I can say that this is a technique that I've seen precisely no one, ever, use on the field.''

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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.

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Juan Soto isn't a HR hitter, the Mets broadcast said. Then he immediately went upper deck

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Juan Soto isn't a HR hitter, the Mets broadcast said. Then he immediately went upper deck

Juan Soto did something Tuesday night at Citi Field that made the whole broadcaster's jinx theory come to life. 

During Soto's 2nd inning at-bat, former MLB first baseman, five-time All-Star, 1979 co-NL MVP, two-time World Series champion, and current Mets broadcaster Keith Hernandez went out on a limb to describe the 20-year-old phenom. 

He is not a home run hitter even though he had nice power here last year.

So, in a rather timely fashion, the lefty launched a moonshot, 410-foot solo home run to right field for Washington's first run of the game. 

In fairness, Hernandez was just trying to explain that Soto isn't a home run hitter because of the type of swing he demonstrates, one that typically produces more line drives than long-balls. 

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Beats by Scherz: Why Scherzer chose Dr. Dre song as his walk-up music

Beats by Scherz: Why Scherzer chose Dr. Dre song as his walk-up music

NEW YORK – A few constants remain during this wayward Nationals season. One is Max Scherzer.

Scherzer comes into Tuesday leading the National League in innings pitched and strikeouts. He's second in strikeouts per nine innings and third in strikeout-to-walk ratio. Scherzer's 3.72 ERA is well above his average of 2.71 since arriving in Washington in 2015. However, his FIP (fielding-independent pitching) is a league-leading 2.45, showing he has been victimized by bad defense more than bad pitching.

He hopped on a pop-up edition of The Racing Presidents podcast Tuesday in New York. Sitting in the visitors dugout a day ahead of another matchup with 2018 Cy Young Award Jacob deGrom, Scherzer touched on lighter topics, like his selection of Dr. Dre's "Still Dre" as his walkup song, and addressed who is responsible for the Nationals being seven games under .500 the last year-plus.

We're all responsible," Scherzer said. "When you wear a hat and jersey that says Nationals on it, we're all in the same position. It's frustrating to not have a winning record. It's frustrating not to be winning as a team. [Since] I've been here, we've won a couple division titles and you know that feeling of what it's like to win. You know you have the core group of players who have won here in the past that can win here again. It's just a matter of figuring out what the right chemistry is and going out there and getting it done."

Scherzer is in his 12th major-league season. He's made at least 30 starts for 10 consecutive seasons. One of the reasons for his lack of injuries and durability is not because he goes through extensive recuperation during the offseason. Instead, Scherzer keeps pushing both his arm and body. 

"I try to find a way to continue to do more, to take more on my body even as I age," Scherzer said.

And, about that walkup song, which is part-protest, part-comeback song? He was out to dinner with reliever Aaron Barrett when it popped on and Barrett suggested it as this year's entrance music.

So, click below to listen to everything Scherzer had to say in our exclusive interview. Also, don't forget to download, rate and subscribe to The Racing Presidents podcast. We're with you after every game and with marquee interviews and insight you can't find elsewhere.

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