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Chargers Chaplain Shawn Mitchell Thursday said that the family of late NFLer Junior Seau "has decided to allow researchers to study his brain for evidence of damage as the result of concussions," according to Sam Farmer of the L.A. TIMES. Mitchell said the family came to the decision "to help other individuals down the road." Mitchell said that the decision of "who will study the Seau's brain has not been made ... despite speculation researchers at Boston University are the most likely candidates to do so" (L.A. TIMES, 5/4). In N.Y., Michael O'Keeffe reports two research groups -- the Brain Injury Research Institute (BIRI) and Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy -- made "bids to persuade Seau’s family to donate his brain to them within 24 hours" of his death. O'Keeffe notes it "sounds ghoulish for scientists to vie for a beloved athlete’s brain so soon after his death, but the researchers needed to let the Seau family know of their interest before it makes arrangements for his remains." The stakes "are high: By studying Seau’s gray matter, the researchers could determine if he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain-destroying disease that has been linked to the deaths" of Pro Football HOFer Mike Webster, former NFLer Andre Waters and numerous other athletes. BIRI Dir Dr. Julian Bailes said, "This specimen needs to be examined. It doesn't matter who does it" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/4).
PROBLEMS MOUNTING: In St. Louis, Bryan Burwell writes, "America's most popular sport and most violent game has a big problem on its hands. "The studies and lawsuits "are piling up on the NFL's lap," and the conjecture about "head trauma and depression and suicide in football makes this feel like the league has a tragic epidemic on its hands." More than 1,000 former players "are suing the league," and last month former NFLer Lomas Brown filed a suit that "seeks to force the NFL to better educate players on the dangers of traumatic head injuries during the crucial period immediately after the draft." Burwell writes, "Based on what I've seen over the last couple of years, [NFL Commissioner Roger] Goodell's NFL has already begun doing that." The concussion culture "has dramatically changed in terms of diagnosis and treatment." While it will "certainly save a lot of lives of current players, it is too late to save the retired players who continue to suffer" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 5/4). Former NFLer Coy Wire said, “There’s an evolution going on and we need to raise the cognizance of what’s really happening and the consciousness in our public (about head trauma in football)” (“Showbiz Tonight,” HLN, 5/3).
THE OBVIOUS REASON: In Buffalo, Jerry Sullivan writes, "We still don't know what could have compelled Seau to take his own life, but you'd have to be ignorant or naive not to suspect that it was somehow related to his 20-year NFL career." It is "about time the league took head injuries seriously, not to mention the difficult transition that players face after leaving the game." Goodell is "cracking down hard on violence, and he should be applauded for it." The culture that "promotes, glorifies and even rewards violent hits on the football field is the culture in which Seau lived and thrived for two decades." It is "not a reach to suggest it had something to do with his premature death" (BUFFALO NEWS, 5/4). In San Jose, Mark Purdy writes, "If you want to say that it's unproven Seau's tragic suicide was the result of football, fine. But after so many recent premature deaths of former NFL players, sadly, the pressure is more on the league to prove otherwise" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 5/4). In Milwaukee, Michael Hunt writes under the header, "NFL Players' Suicides Raise Troubling Questions." Hunt writes, "Our question should be: When is this going to stop?" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 5/4). In DC, Deron Snyder wrote three "suicides and a slew of lawsuits in the past 15 months can’t be ignored," but that is "what many NFL players and fans want to do" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 5/3).
A TENUOUS CONNECTION? ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said, “I’m concerned about the automatic connecting of the dots, for example, from Junior Seau to Dave Duerson." Kornheiser: "There (are) a lot of people with emotional problems. ... It’s not necessarily because their brains were affected by a lot of violent hits. But you have to take all that into consideration. If you’re the NFL, you’re scared at this statistic: That suicides among football players are six times the rate of the non-football population” (“PTI,” ESPN, 5/3). In California, Scott Bair notes a "clear connection" between Seau's NFL career and his suicide "could be hard to establish." Seau was "never listed as having a concussion on an official NFL injury report" (NORTH COUNTY TIMES, 5/4). In Jacksonville, Gene Frenette wrote it is "hard to play connect-the-dots of financially punishing a league for every player now suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy." It is "not a stretch to think playing football can have long-term effects on the brain." But that is "different from suggesting the NFL purposely concealed information on the long-term effects of concussions, thus putting many retired/deceased players at undue risk of early onset dementia." Frenette wrote, "Football is brutal and takes a heavy toll on its combatants. How could any of them not know the possible heavy price for willingly being a gladiator?" (JACKSONVILLE.com, 5/3).
THE NEXT BIG TOBACCO? FOXSPORTS.com's Jen Floyd Engel wrote, "I am not so sure football is not the next tobacco." There is "no entirely safe way to play the game -- not on the level we watch on Sundays -- just like there is no safe amount of cigarette smoking." Engel: "Both smoking and football are dangerous. Only recently have we come to know just how dangerous the football was" (FOXSPORTS.com, 5/3). ESPN’s Dan Le Batard said his initial reaction upon hearing the news of Seau’s suicide was “football killed Junior Seau, and that wouldn’t have been my reaction as recently as a couple of years ago." Le Batard: "I don't see how you can jump to any other conclusion. ... We’re wondering, is football killing its players?” (“Dan Le Batard Is Highly Questionable,” ESPN2, 5/3).
When NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith and President Domonique Foxworth “met with the entire Saints team in New Orleans” Thursday, it became clear their attempt to overturn the player suspensions “could go much further, raising questions about the broad power Commissioner Roger Goodell has to decide discipline and then hear appeals,” according to Judy Battista of the N.Y. TIMES. Saints LB Jonathan Vilma’s lawyer Peter Ginsberg said that his client “would combat the allegations against him, calling the one-year suspension Vilma received from Goodell ‘perhaps irrational.’” The players have “until the close of business Monday to appeal their suspensions to the league, but there seems little doubt that Vilma, at least, will also take his case to court.” Ginsberg said, “The commissioner has designated himself as high-holy executioner. There is something inherently inequitable about that and fundamentally flawed, as there is about his entire investigation.” Battista notes Goodell’s authority to oversee discipline for off-the-field violations “is granted to him by the collective bargaining agreement.” The union “had hoped to establish a jointly appointed panel to oversee off-the-field discipline, which is also the case with the discipline process for on-field behavior.” But owners “resisted, and the union gave in.” Three sports law experts said that the players “could argue in court that Goodell exceeded the scope of his authority or acted capriciously and arbitrarily in deciding the penalties.” But they added that “that is a high standard to meet … because courts have typically given deference to the commissioner’s authority to impose discipline in cases that he believes involve the best interests of the game and in which the only appeal is to him.” However if the players “seek and are granted an injunction, it could stall the start of the suspensions.” The NFL has “sought to minimize concerns about the fairness of its investigation” by announcing that former U.S. prosecutor Mary Jo White “was brought in last December to offer the league an analysis of its evidence and its process in the investigation” (N.Y. TIMES, 5/4).
POWER STRUGGLE: In Pittsburgh, Ron Cook writes one thing just about “everybody in the NFLPA agrees on is that Goodell has too much power with league discipline.” Cook: “Here's the thing, though: The players allowed Goodell to keep his power when they did the new Collective Bargaining Agreement with the NFL last summer. Only the Steelers can complain about him without being hypocritical. They were the only team to vote against the CBA, in large part because the players felt Goodell had too much say, not just in handing out discipline, but in the appeal process” (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 5/4). ESPN.com’s Andrew Brandt wrote the relationship between the league and the NFLPA “is still fractured.” The “lack of coordination and communication between the two sides here is a microcosm of the mistrust that did not subside with the new CBA and has continued through the HGH testing issue as well.” Goodell’s power “appears to be stronger than ever regarding player conduct.” The NFLPA had “ample opportunity to address the fact that the commissioner had power to act as both judge and jury about such discipline” (ESPN.com, 5/3). YAHOO SPORTS’ Michael Silver writes, “Unless and until the NFL produces unassailable evidence that these men actively participated in a pay-for-injure operation that caused tangible consequences to Saints opponents … I'll be somewhat skeptical about the depth of their involvement.” Saints LB Scott Shanle on Wednesday said, “If you have actual evidence of money changing hands and guys actually getting injured -- if that exists -- then all the suspensions are justified." He added, "I think they have nothing to show. If you have evidence to show, at this point, wouldn't you show it? I don't think they have anything" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 5/4).
The ATP World Tour and WTA Tour "both have ridden the economic downturn of the past few years with aplomb," according to Charles Morris of the FINANCIAL TIMES. ATP Europe CEO & Commercial Dir Laurent Delanney said, “A huge point (in countering the downturn) is the incredible generation of players who are driving interest in our game. This has made us very attractive to fans and corporate partners alike through difficult economic times.” Just four different men -- Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Petro -- have won the 17 Grand Slam singles titles that have been held "since the financial crisis began" in late '07, while the "corresponding women's figure is 11." WTA CMO Andrew Walker said, "There is no question that having a consistent champion and rivalries is a key ingredient of success." Walker is "optimistic that might soon be remedied," with players such as Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova, Petra Kvitova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Caroline Wozniacki, Li Na and others "battling for Grand Slam wins." Walker: "If you look at it from that perspective, I feel good about our pipeline. I also like the mix of markets these players are from." Tennis' "global reach has also been crucial to its resilience during hard times." The sport's "international mix of players and tournaments has helped attract sponsors seeking to extend their brands as recession has bitten many markets." The ATP in '10 "secured a new global premier partner in Corona Extra," while in the past two years, it has also signed agreements with FedEx, Moet & Chandon and the city of Rio de Janeiro. Meanwhile, the WTA is "seeking a new principal sponsor," as its deal with Sony Ericsson ends this year. BNP Paribas, Rolex, Oriflame and Jetstar "have also signed in the past 18 months." Attendance is "also good, with ATP attendances holding steady" at about 4.4 million, while about 785 million viewers in more than 180 countries also watched ATP tournaments on TV last year, up almost 45% increase compared to '10. The '11-13 broadcast agreements "increased TV revenue" more than 60% (FINANCIAL TIMES, 5/4).
ORDER ON THE COURT: SI.com's Courtney Nguyen wrote of the WTA, "After four years of talk about volatility and unpredictability, which critics considered symptomatic of a tour that was weak in talent and commitment, we’ve now had four months of extreme stability." Since Azarenka and Sharapova played "for the No. 1 ranking in the Australian Open final in January, the top two have met in two finals since, which is more than we can say about the men." SI.com's C.W. Sesno added, "I do think the stability is here to stay, but let me start by making one thing clear: Serena [Williams] is an anomaly." Sesno: "Would anyone really be more surprised if she bulldozed the field to hoist some hardware than if she stalled out in the early rounds?" (SI.com, 5/3).