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SLI: Youth football should curb hits in practice

SLI: Youth football should curb hits in practice

NEW ORLEANS (AP) It defies logic that there are now far more precautions taken to protect NFL players from head trauma than youth and high school football players, said several current or former NFL players speaking on behalf of a group advocating safer sports.

The Sports Legacy Group visited the Super Bowl media center Friday to announce it was launching a national campaign to encourage youth and high school football programs to drastically curb or eliminate contact practices during the offseason.

``This is low-hanging fruit. This is a great way to reduce the amount of hits,'' said former NFL fullback Kevin Turner, his speech slurred slightly because of his struggle with the neuro-muscular disease ALS. ``It's also a great way to teach a team how to practice without pads, and if they can get that done, it will be so much better.''

While scientists and researchers have yet to uncover a conclusive link between head trauma and ALS, a terminal disease which gradually reduces muscle control throughout the body, there are higher documented instances of ALS among pro football players than the general population.

Mounting scientific evidence points to a variety of brain disease resulting from repetitive hits to the head, even if many of those hits do not result in concussions.

``It's absurd that we would let third and fourth graders hit each other,'' said former NFL linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer, who retired from pro football after being diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome. ``For every NFL sideline where there are 10 trainers and six doctors watching every person on the field, there are countless youth and high school sporting events where you're lucky if there's even a trainer.''

The Sports Legacy Group, or SLI, works with the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, and has been a leader in raising public awareness about the dangers of concussions and advocating for safer sports. The NFL has cracked down on flagrant hits in recent years, and is regularly toughening its rules for treating concussions. The league also substantially cut back the number of offseason contact practices in its most recent labor agreement in 2010.

SLI director Chris Nowinski stated that researchers believe the developing brains of children, particularly those younger than 14, are more vulnerable to long-term damage from head trauma than the adult brain.

``In terms of safety, the NFL is really the model,'' Nowinski said. ``In a world where NFL players are more protected than the teenage players, we have a problem and we need to correct it.''

Nowinski said at least 29 states currently allow high school programs to engage in offseason contact practices in spring or summer, including Texas (30 days of contact in spring), Illinois (20 days), and Florida (17 days).

The former players speaking on behalf of SLI included quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, former linebacker Ted Johnson, former offensive lineman Kyle Turley and former linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski.

The players all said they still love football, but want youth and high school programs to be proactive about making easy, inexpensive decisions to team kids how to practice without pads and drastically reduce young players' exposure to repetitive head hits.

``I love the game of football and I want it fixed,'' Turley said, who has struggles with vertigo since his pro career and often wears sunglasses indoors to help with the symptoms. ``We demand that it be fixed.''

``If places like Texas don't want to value kids' lives then they don't love football,'' Turley said. ``Facts and stats speak for selves. You don't need to hear it from me. ... If you don't believe in statistics, you're an imbecile.''

Hasselbeck said curbing offseason contact in all levels of football is the ``smart thing to do,'' and compared those who resist such measures to coaches who saw water breaks as a sign of weakness back when his father, Don, played pro ball.

``Now we know this is just foolishness, stupid,'' he said.

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Lamar Jackson limited while Mark Andrews and Ronnie Stanley miss Monday practice

Lamar Jackson limited while Mark Andrews and Ronnie Stanley miss Monday practice

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Three days after the Ravens practiced with all 53 members of the active roster, there’s now legitimate injury concerns for the AFC’s top team. 

Tight end Mark Andrews and left tackle Ronnie Stanley both missed practice with a knee injury and a concussion, respectively, whlie Lamar Jackson was a limited participant with an elbow injury. The team will have just two more days to prepare for kickoff against the Jets, a little over 72 hours after the team’s first practice of the week. 

The most notable injury, however, was Jackson’s absence. 

“We’ll see,” coach John Harbaugh said of Jackson’s practice availability this week. “It’s less than 24 hours after the game, it’s hard to say. It’s not a serious injury in that sense. This is day-to-day when we play Thursday night, so we’ll see where we’re at.”

Harbaugh declined to share more about the specific injury to Jackson. 

When asked about Stanley’s concussion, he also declined to share more about the team’s injuries. 

“I’m not going to get into injuries, we just got done playing the game 24 hours ago,” Harbaugh said. “We’re going to play a game Thursday night. The guys that are ready to play will play. The guys that aren’t won’t. So just look at the injury report and take it from there.”

While it’s promising that Jackson was just a limited participant, the absences of Andrews and Stanley — and special teamers Anthony Levine and Chris Board — are far more worrisome. 

Stanley has missed just a handful of snaps this season, and played in 100 percent of the snaps against the Bills. 

Andrews played just nine snaps, as a knee injury kept him out of the lineup for the majority of Sunday’s game. 

Should neither of the four that missed practiced be able to go, the Ravens will have to replace their starting left tackle, leading pass-catcher and two special teams starters in short time.

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Anthony Rendon’s future appears set following Stephen Strasburg deal

Anthony Rendon’s future appears set following Stephen Strasburg deal

SAN DIEGO -- On the stage Monday at the Winter Meetings, two key components of Anthony Rendon’s future chatted before the television’s red camera light popped on.

Mike Rizzo and agent Scott Boras passed a final 30 seconds before showtime with small talk, then addressed the first bombastic signing of the Winter Meetings: Stephen Strasburg is returning to the Washington Nationals on a seven-year, $245 million deal. This, for all intents and purposes, ends Rendon’s time with the organization. 

The math creates a crunch. Rizzo tried to maneuver around the reality when on the dais next to Boras, but the reality is Washington does not want to surpass the competitive balance tax, it does not want to blow out payroll, and it has little wiggle room. Rendon moving on is the now an anchor in the offseason.

Washington operates with a big payroll and pocket-lining approach. A seeming dichotomy. It spends just to the edge. Then, it stops. Not too far to go over the tax. Not too far to appear reckless. But always far enough to say, correctly, the organization is a willing spender, a point Rizzo leaned on when asked about Rendon’s future Monday.

“You look at the history of the Nationals and the way we've positioned ourselves and the details of the contract and the way that it's structured, this ownership group has never shied away from putting the resources together to field a championship-caliber club,” Rizzo said. “I don't see them in any way hindering us from going after the elite players in the game.

“I think that Anthony Rendon is, again, one of the players that is most near and dear to my heart, a guy we've drafted, signed, developed, watched turn into a superstar, playoff success, and a huge part of the world championship run that we went on. So he's a guy that we love.

“The ownership has always given us the resources to field a great team, and we're always trying to win, and we're going to continue to do so.”

That is a 141-word non-answer. 

Washington’s managing principal owner Mark Lerner did not help Rizzo’s position before the Winter Meetings by stating the team could bring back only Rendon or Strasburg -- not both. 

“He did?” Rizzo joked. 

He did. Which, naturally, makes reporters curious about the correlation between a statement from ownership and Rizzo’s operating capacity.

“Well, when you look at those comments, and then you look at the structure of this particular deal and the structure of deals we've had getting up to where we are right now, I think Mark realizes that there's ways to fit players in, there's ways that you can field a championship-caliber roster -- and, again, the resources have always been there, so I don't expect that to change,” Rizzo said.

Here, he hopped into the idea Strasburg’s deferred money -- reportedly $80 million to be paid out within three years of the contract’s expiration -- suggesting the manipulation of those numbers keeps Rendon in play for the organization. It’s not enough. Not based on how the Nationals allocate and spend.

Which means they chose. Strasburg or Rendon. They could only have one, and they signed the homegrown pitcher and thanked Rendon for his time.

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