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Volume 24 No. 158

Leagues and Governing Bodies

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'" (, 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" (, 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" (, 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:'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" (, 1/28).'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" (, 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" (, 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" (, 1/28).

The same congressional committee that “slammed baseball and its drug-testing policy eight years ago has turned its crosshairs” to the NFLPA and its Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith, according to Christian Red of the N.Y. DAILY NEWS. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is “blasting Smith and the union for failing to implement testing for human growth hormone, despite the league and union agreeing to that policy in principle during the summer” of ’11. Now NFLers “may be called to testify before Congress on the issue.” U.S. Reps Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) yesterday wrote in a letter to Smith, “We are disappointed with the NFLPA’s remarkable recalcitrance, which has prevented meaningful progress on this issue. We intend to take a more active role to determine whether the position you have taken -- that HGH is not a serious concern and that the test for HGH is unreliable -- is consistent with the beliefs of rank and file NFL players.” Red notes while the NFL and NFLPA “agreed to a new collective-bargaining agreement” in ’11, there is “still no testing” for HGH. MLB “announced earlier this month that it would conduct in-season blood tests for HGH.” MLB banned the drug in ‘05, but there was “no testing until last season, during spring training and the offseason only.” The congressmen wrote, “Despite being the first of the major professional sports leagues to agree to test for HGH, the NFL has now fallen far behind its counterparts in implementing the agreement” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/29). In DC, Mark Maske noted the league and union have been "unable to launch a population study that the union has maintained is necessary to determine what should constitute a positive test for athletes the size of NFL players." Issa and Cummings "previously have been unsuccessful in their attempts to push negotiations forward" (, 1/28).

If NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is “the quarterback at NFL headquarters,” Exec VP/Business Ventures Eric Grubman is “more like the running back, negotiating around, over and through obstacles while always trying to advance the ball,” according to Sam Farmer of the L.A. TIMES. Grubman sat for a Q&A and discussed a “variety of topics, among them the challenge of attracting fans to live events (as opposed to watching on TV), the NFL-in-Los Angeles soap opera, and the prospects of continuing to build a fan base overseas.” Below are excerpts from the conversation:

Q: It's more comfortable to watch games at home than in an NFL stadium. What's the pitch for paying all that money to watch the game live?
Grubman: You can't influence the game from your couch. But if you've never experienced that, you don't know what you're missing. This is the first generation really that I would argue has a lot of opportunities to see it in such a way that they don't know what they're missing. ... If what you want to see is the 15th angle on the replay, if that's what you want, it's better at home.

Q: The NFL seems to be investigating the possibility of putting a team overseas. But NFL Europe ultimately failed. Isn't that a red flag?
Grubman: NFL Europe demonstrated the people love American-style football, and that they love the experience. … What they didn't like was something other than the ultimate game.

Q: What about the NFL in Los Angeles? Has that returned to the back burner?
Grubman: We're still of a mindset to return to Los Angeles, if we can do it in a way that makes us sure that we're going to have great success.

Q: Where do you project the growth of the league to be in five years? Is it still on an upward trajectory?
Grubman: Everybody keeps saying that we're a mature business because we have a number of franchises, we're fully distributed and we're on network television, our ratings are as high as they can be, etc. But if you go back the past 10 or 15 years, we've been able to say that for 15 years.

Q: What new ideas are in the pipeline for the NFL?
Grubman: NFL Everywhere is beginning to become a reality. If you subscribe to NFL Sunday Ticket on DirecTV and authenticate, you can take that with you, so to speak. Well, start thinking about that with other pieces of our content and more methods of authentication, and it's going to expand.

Q: NFL fans in Europe can watch streaming online video of live games and NFL Network by subscribing to Game Pass. What's the future of that?
Grubman: We've just been using that to satisfy the rabid fan internationally. ... Instead of saying, 'What's the price at which people turn away?' What if we said, 'Why don't we get to a million fans? Why not 10 million fans?' That's a big opportunity. I don't have any idea what it's worth. What does it mean to have 1 million, 5 million, 10 million more fans overseas? Then you start to overlay whether you have a franchise overseas, or two franchises overseas, or do you play multiple games in multiple cities overseas? (L.A. TIMES, 1/29).

Sources said that the NBPA has sent every NBA player an e-mail informing them that the union will hold elections for seven vacant positions on the nine-member union Exec Committee Feb. 16 during All-Star Weekend in Houston. Sources said that the e-mail was sent on Friday. The law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, which was hired by the NBPA to investigate the union’s leadership, recommended in a report issued earlier this month that the union hold Exec Committee meetings during the All-Star Weekend. The 469-page report, which found that Exec Dir Billy Hunter placed his own interests above the interests of the union, also found that only two members of the Exec Committee -- President Derek Fisher and VP Matt Bonner -- may be current members under the union’s bylaws. The report states, “The terms of the other seven have either expired, or they appear no longer eligible for service because they have not been ‘employed as players on any of the individual teams’ this season (or both).” The e-mail encourages all player reps and their teammates to attend. A source said that the e-mail states any NBPA member can run for the open seats on the Exec Committee. Exec Committee members are elected by team player reps under NBPA bylaws. The seats up for election include the secretary-treasurer position, the first VP position and five VP positions.

The NBA will celebrate the Chinese New Year from Feb. 7-14 and honor the Year of the Snake with a record 23 live games televised and streamed in China over eight consecutive days. Five NBA teams will host in-arena Chinese New Year-themed celebrations and two additional teams will have signage recognizing the holiday. NBA China marketing partners Harbin Beer and Peak Sports are co-presenting partners of the celebration and will have a presence on broadcast and in-arena. In addition, Peak will unveil an NBA China New Year’s Celebration-themed TV commercial in China featuring endorsers Heat F Shane Battier, Warriors F Carl Landry, Rockets F Patrick Patterson and NBA D-League Sioux Falls Skyforce G Andrew Goudelock. Harbin Beer also will launch NBA Chinese New Year-themed cans in China (NBA). In DC, Michael Lee noted the NBA will “again lean on” former NBAer and China native Yao Ming as the Chinese New Year approaches to “take a yet-to-be determined role” in the eight-day celebration. NBA China CEO David Shoemaker said that last year’s Chinese New Year event “attracted nearly 90 million viewers with the league’s local television partners; he is expecting more than 100 million this year.” He said that the Rockets “remain popular,” and three of their games “will be televised on Chinese Central Television, the nation’s state-run international broadcaster, during the celebration.” Lee noted it “helps that the team currently boasts Jeremy Lin, a Taiwanese American, and an all-star guard in James Harden” (WASHINGTON POST, 1/27).

WASHINGTON CONNECTION: The POST's Lee noted the Wizards franchise “has a long history with China, dating back to when late owner Abe Pollin led the NBA’s first venture to the nation in 1979.” The Wizards will be “one of five teams that will host events at their venue to honor Chinese culture,” along with the Bulls, Warriors, Heat and Raptors. The Celtics and Clippers “will have in-arena signage to recognize the holiday, which actually begins on Feb. 10.” All 24 teams playing on Feb. 8 “will wear specially designed shooting shirts and the league will conduct several online and social media promotions throughout the week” (, 1/28).