SBD/January 29, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFLPA, Harvard Team To Conduct $100M Research Study On Football Injury Risks

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Foxworth says the NFLPA chose to give the $100M to the program over other uses
The NFLPA is funding a 10-year, $100M research project at Harvard Medical School "to reduce the impact of on-the-field injuries and improve the long-term health of players," according to Ron Winslow of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. The effort comes amid "growing concern about the risk of brain injuries in football, but the scope extends well beyond concussions to bone and joint injury, heart disease, depression and chronic pain that affect many players long after their careers are over." The $100M comes from "money paid to the NFLPA by the NFL" under the recent CBA. NFLPA Exec Committee President Domonique Foxworth said, "It is money that could go to benefits and salary, but (the association) opted to put it toward health and safety benefits for our guys." Winslow notes the new project plans to "produce a smartphone app that would provide health information to players, communicate findings of the research and help direct them quickly to better treatments" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 1/29). Harvard Medical School Clinical & Translational Research Dean Dr. Lee Nadler, who is directing the project, said that the Harvard team, with "help from NFL players, will recruit a geographically, racially, and ethnically diverse pool of 1,000 retired players to be screened with blood and other health tests and questionnaires." In Boston, Kay Lazar in a front-page piece reports from that pool, the scientists will "select 100 of the healthiest and 100 of the least healthy to undergo extensive tests of brain function, physical abilities, cardiovascular health, and cellular changes to construct a 'biological profile' that will identify specific disease patterns." They also will examine "lifestyle and even regional differences in diet to identify factors that contribute to players’ risk for severe health problems." The scientists will then "test therapies in retirees who have biological profiles similar to those of the sickest players, to see whether they can forestall serious problems." The treatments "might include specialized diets, medications, or exercise regimens" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/29).

PLAYERS HAVE MIXED REACTIONS TO OBAMA: On the heels of President Obama saying he might not let his son play football and calling for the sport to increase safety elements, members of both the Ravens and 49ers expressed their opinions. Ravens QB Joe Flacco said that he "understands the reality of the situation," but added that it is "comparing apples to oranges when talking about kids playing football versus adults." He said, "When you talk about little kids doing it they’re not having the collision that we’re having at the NFL level." But Ravens S Ed Reed said that he would "be wary of letting his son play football 'until they fix the system,' including upgrading every training room in the league." Reed: "I'm not forcing football on my son. If he wants to play it ... Do you let him play? Do you turn him away from it? You can't make decisions for him. At the end of the day, all I can do is say 'Son, I played it so you don't have to'" (NOLA.com, 1/28). 49ers FB Bruce Miller said, "It is a violent game, but not too violent. Guys are big and explosive players so the game is violent, but I don’t know about too violent. I think they are taking caution to be careful and concerned for the players safety and taking that into account more" (NOLA.com, 1/28). 49ers LB Aldon Smith: "It's not like we signed up and thought we were going to play tennis. It's a physical game. Everybody plays hard. And guys get hit sometimes. That's what we all know coming into the game. We all signed up for it." 49ers CB Tarell Brown: "I can understand what President Obama is saying, but at the same time, the league is putting in things (for safety). It is a physical game if you are passionate about it and are trained the right way" (ESPN.com, 1/28). Ravens C Matt Birk: "Certainly it is a dangerous game and we’re finding out more and more, every day, the long-term effects that this game can have. I think it’s a joint effort with the commissioner, with coaches, with players, with everybody, everybody that wants to watch and make this game as safe as it can be. I think we’re making strides in that. Football’s a great game" (Baltimore SUN, 1/29).

MAKING A CHOICE: ESPN.com's Ashley Fox wrote the "money-generating behemoth that is the NFL isn't going anywhere." There will continue to be people who "feel like Obama and wouldn't want their son involved in a sport that leaves significant scars, but there also will be people who feel like every player and coach I spoke with for San Francisco and Baltimore." This is the "life they chose, and given a second chance, they would choose it again." If the league wants to "make that choice easier and more palatable by protecting players from themselves as well as each other, we should applaud that, even if players aren't thrilled with the penalties and fines" (ESPN.com, 1/28). FOXSPORTS.com's Jen Floyd Engel writes the "frustrating thing" about most football players is that they are "less concerned about their health than everybody else is at the moment" (FOXSPORTS.com, 1/29). In DC, Mike Wise writes if NFL players are modern-day gladiators," fans are "little more than howling, new-millennium Romans -- with better-stitched togas and viewing angles." Now armed with more information "than ever about football and brain injuries, we think long and hard whether our kids should strap on a helmet and pads." But we are "glad other parents’ kids do and we conveniently forget that all 110 men voluntarily putting their cartilage and brains at risk on Sunday night are someone’s sons" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/29).

TIMING IS INTERESTING: ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser said Obama to make his comments now, "on the eve of Super Bowl Week, if you’re Roger Goodell that is a pain in the heart." Kornheiser: "The President of the United States just said, ‘I have significant doubts about football in America.’ That’s a big blow to the NFL this week. ... He basically just put football on a clock in America." ESPN’s Michael Wilbon: “I understand what the President is saying and it’s a big issue.” Wilbon said if football “ceases to look like the football that people have embraced and made the most important cultural happening in America, they may turn to something else. … They want violence and the game is not as violent as it used to be” (“PTI,” ESPN, 1/28). L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke: “President Obama is not just the leader of the country, he’s also a father and people look up to him like that. For him to say this is devastating to football." Denver Post columnist Woody Paige said Obama is “reflecting what society is saying” about the dangers and inherent violence in football. Paige said “so many parents are having their kids turn” to other less violent sports to participate in, and the game will be around in 35 years if “it will continue to evolve.” Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw said, “What the president said millions of parents have been saying for a long time" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 1/28).

Pollard says the NFL will not survive with fans turned off by safety mandates
DEEP CONCERNS
: Reaction also came from Ravens S Bernard Pollard saying the NFL will not be around in 30 years due to fans being turned off from the increased safety mandates. In DC, Nathan Fenno notes Pollard "isn't a doctor or lawyer or long-forgotten former player." He is one of the NFL's "feared hitmen, about to play on his sport's biggest stage, and he believes, eventually, the game will claim a life on the field." Fenno: "Is the NFL worth this? That's not just a question for Pollard to answer. It's one for us, too" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 1/29). In Richmond, Paul Woody writes Pollard "has a point, and he misses the point." What fans will "become fed up with is the wanton destruction of the brains and lives of young men" (RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH, 1/29). SPORTS ON EARTH's Tommy Tomlinson wrote, "I'm not sure most fans could enjoy a football game without the danger. But I'm not sure we can keep living with where the biology of the game is taking us" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 1/28). In Jacksonville, Chet Fussman wrote the NFL "must solve a difficult trifecta of making player safety a priority, slowing down the game and doing so without alienating the millions of fans who value the game for its hard hitting and violent collisions." The most "logical conclusion: Safety will be valued, and a segment of fan support and TV ratings will be lost" (JACKSONVILLE.com, 1/28).
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