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Volume 24 No. 156

Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell gave his annual State of the League address Friday in New Orleans, and "topics of player health and improved safety dominated" his 45-minute address, according to Howard Fendrich of the AP. Goodell "often sounded like someone seeking to point out that players or others are at fault for some of the sport’s problems -- and need to help fix them." Goodell said, "I’ll stand up. I’ll be accountable. It’s part of my responsibility. I’ll do everything. But the players have to do it. The coaches have to do it. Our officials have to do it. Our medical professionals have to do it" (AP, 2/2). Goodell added, "The changes we are making are having a positive impact. The game is exciting, competitive, tough and safer. We are making the game better while also evolving to a health and safety culture. That is a big priority." Goodell said the agenda for the Competition Committee will include "eliminating certain low blocks, further taking the head out of the game and expanding the standards for the quality of our playing fields" (NFL Network, 2/1). The NATIONAL POST's Bruce Arthur noted the "majority" of questions during Goodell's 22-question press conference were "regarding safety and concussions, and he responded with his usual platitudes and boilerplate." Goodell at times "sounded like a man trying to be the health and safety commissioner of a league that can be neither healthy nor safe." At others, he "merely sounded like a man making public statements that would one day be entered into evidence in the class-action lawsuits that have been launched against the NFL by fully one-third of their 12,000 living retired players" (NATIONAL POST, 2/2).

SAFETY STILL TOP OF MIND: Goodell said player health and safety "has always been a priority in the NFL," and the league will "continue to make it a priority." He said, "I welcome the president’s comments because it has been a priority and we want to make sure that people understand what we are doing to make our game safer, not just in the NFL, but throughout sports. The changes we are making in the NFL I think are changing all of sports" (NFL Network, 2/1). Goodell said that the league is "considering creating a 'strike zone' -- not too high, not too low -- in order to take head shots out of the game and protect the knees of players." He said, "It's important for us to find, is there a better way of doing what we're doing? We are focused on that with the competition committee. … There's no question that we're trying to get back to the fundamentals of tackling. The No. 1 issue is, take the head out of the game" (L.A. TIMES, 2/2). CBS' Phil Simms said of the NFL, “They’ve changed the rules to make the game safer, and they’ve changed at every single level. That means it’s even changing in Pop Warner. … It’s going to take a few years, but we’re going to see a new generation of players that get through the NFL, and their health is going to be so much better than some of the generations we’ve seen before.” CBS' Shannon Sharpe added, “I think 10, 15 years from now, all the players will sit back and say, ‘You know what? I didn’t like what the commissioner did at the time, but it was the right thing to do’” ("Face The Nation," CBS, 2/3). NBC’s Bob Costas said Goodell is “well-intentioned” as to making the game safer, and he “has made significant positive strides” towards that goal. But Costas added, “No matter how hard Goodell and company try and no matter how sincere they are (to make the game safer) ... the way football is played, even legal hits are frightening” ("Meet the Press,” NBC, 2/3).

TRUST WITH MEDICAL STAFFS: The NFLPA on Thursday announced a study showing 78% of players do not trust their teams’ medical staffs. Goodell noted the league met last week with NFLPA officials for several hours and the union did not bring up the results. He said, “They did raise the issue of making sure that we have the proper medical attention, but they didn’t raise those statistics. … I’m disappointed because I think we have tremendous medical care for our players. These are not just team doctors. These doctors are affiliated with the best medical institutions in the world" (NFL Network, 2/1). In San Diego, Michael Gehlken reported Goodell "plans to allow the NFL's collectively bargained Joint Committee of Player Safety and Welfare decide what becomes" of Chargers' physician David Chao. His decision came one day after multiple NFLPA execs "singled out" Chao, "discrediting his ability to properly treat players in light of recent malpractice lawsuits and a Drug Enforcement Agency investigation regarding his office's record-keeping." Chargers players have "defended Chao since the NFLPA's comments that NFL players 'deserve better' than him" (, 2/1).

MAKING CHANGES TO ROONEY RULE: Goodell noted the league will “take steps to ensure more diversity in our hiring practices.” None of the eight head coaching vacancies were filled by a minority despite the presence of the Rooney Rule, and Goodell said, “The results this year were simply not acceptable.” He added, “We have to see what the next generation of the Rooney Rule is. That’s going to have to come from conversations with a lot of people in this league" (NFL Network, 2/1). He added yesterday, "The outcome we’re looking for is to have the best possible talent, everyone have an opportunity and to be as diverse as possible as an organization. ... We’re going to look at increased symposiums where we can pick out the top 15 or 20 coaches and GMs. Have them all at a symposium where they can work on their skills, they can interact with each other, and we can really try to accelerate their development. … These are all things I think can help us in the long term. But it’s a long-term commitment, and we have to look at it that way.” Goodell noted the rule could be expanded to include coordinators, but said, "I’m not sure that in and of itself is a solution. I think we’re going to have to address this on multiple issues, but that is on the table for sure” ("Mike & Mike in the Morning, ESPN Radio, 2/3). But in St. Louis, Jim Thomas noted Ravens RB coach Wilbert Montgomery "doesn't necessarily think the system is broke." He said, "We all have bad years. ... In this case here, it was a bad year for minorities to get hired. So it's what you do to bounce back from that" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 2/3).

THINKING ABROAD: It was announced Friday that the two games being held in London next year -- 49ers-Jaguars and Steelers-Vikings -- have sold out. Goodell said NFL owners “understand that this is a market where we need to be more active and that we need to continue to grow our game.” Goodell said of playing another regular-season game in Mexico, “We would like to be back there.” However, he did not offer any time frame for a return. Goodell said of creating an 18-game schedule, "We’re always going to evaluate our season structure. We’ve been very open on the fact that we want to address our preseason. The fans reaction to the quality of the preseason is a big concern." He added, "We will continue to figure out how to improve on our season’s structure but will not compromise if we can’t do it in a safe and effective way” (NFL Network, 2/1).

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said during his state of the league address Friday he believes HGH testing is "going to happen prior to the 2013 NFL season." He said, "It’s the right thing to do for the players, for their health and well-being long-term. It’s the right thing to do for the integrity of the game and it’s the right thing to do to send a message to everybody else in sports. You don’t have to play the game by taking performance-enhancing drugs." Goodell later sat with NFL Network's Rich Eisen and said, "The science is there. That's clear. We want to get an agreement. I believe we'll have one in advance of this season and I think it's terrible from a health and safety standpoint of the players, from the integrity of the game and I think it sends all the wrong messages.” Goodell said there “were some questions on the appeal process that the union raised” about HGH punishments and “we got back a document to them in less than 24 hours so we can try to move this forward." The commissioner: "That should be the only remaining hurdle. There's no reason for a population study at this point with all the testing that's gone on over the last couple years” (NFL Network, 2/1). Goodell yesterday said, “I believe the union and the NFL are going to get together and get this done.” Goodell: “The science is there. … Other sports have accepted that science. We should. We should be leaders. We should be making sure they’re doing everything to protect the health of our players. We should be sending the right messages to every level of sport that this is not a part of sports. And also protecting the integrity of our game” (“Mike & Mike in the Morning,” ESPN Radio, 2/3).

: In Phoenix, Dan Bickley wrote many players in the NFL "fail the eye test." Suspicion of HGH use has "run rampant for years, rivaling the steroid abuse that marked the previous century." But despite "all the visual warnings, no one seems all that concerned." After last week's SI report that Ravens LB Ray Lewis used deer antler extract to expedite his return from a triceps injury this season, "it's time for the league to get serious" (, 2/2).

PART OF THE GIVE AND TAKE: SI's Peter King said the NFLPA is “going to have to be forced by Congress to implement HGH testing." However, it will be "just another example" of the union wanting a "quid pro quo." King: "When they give up something like HGH testing, they want something in return” (“PFT,” NBC Sports Network, 2/1).

The NFL, faced with “increasing concern about the toll of concussions and confronted with litigation involving thousands of former players, is planning to form a partnership with General Electric to jump-start development of imaging technology that would detect concussions and encourage the creation of materials to better protect the brain,” according to Judy Battista of the N.Y. TIMES. The four-year initiative, which “is expected to begin in March with at least $50 million from the league and GE, is the result of a late October conversation” between Commissioner Roger Goodell and GE Chair & CEO Jeffrey Immelt. When Goodell “explained his idea of getting leading companies in innovation to join the NFL to accelerate research, Immelt said he wanted to help.” Goodell said, “It could be a seismic shift in the sense of great organizations coming together to solve important problems for society. That’s a good thing.” Battista reported the expectation is “that new technologies could spring from the collaboration within a few years.” The initiative will be “two-pronged.” The first part, financed “by at least $30 million over four years, will focus on specializing imaging equipment to detect head trauma.” The hope is that the machines “could forecast who might sustain concussions, and then show in real time the degree of brain injury and recovery.” That could “provide guidance on when it is safe to return players to games.” The second element of the project “aims to improve helmets and other protective devices by, essentially, crowd sourcing for solutions.” GE would “run, with an initial investment of $20 million, what it calls an innovation challenge, asking inventors, entrepreneurs, scientists and academicians to submit ideas for how safety equipment could be improved.” The most promising ideas “would be selected, financed and brought to market, opening the field to ideas that have not sprung from GE or helmet manufacturers” (N.Y. TIMES, 2/2).

SMITH EXAMPLE A COMPLEX ONE: YAHOO SPORTS’ Les Carpenter noted Goodell on Friday during his State of the League address “kept talking about the need for players to be honest with doctors when they get a concussion, but when confronted with the case of 49ers quarterback Alex Smith who was upfront about his concussions, missed a game and lost his job, the commissioner didn't have a good answer.” Carpenter: “There isn't one. Football safety and football culture will forever butt heads” (, 2/1). ESPN's John Saunders noted that players claim head injuries are part of what they signed up for by playing football. Saunders: “But they didn’t. They signed up to play football and did so without knowing the facts. If someone told their parents that long-term exposure may cause severe brain injury, would they be as quick to let their children play? Alex Smith did just what the new policy told him he should do. Where did it get him? A place on the bench watching the Super Bowl and a ticket out of San Francisco. Signing up says money and fame. What if it also said, ‘May cause dementia, depression or suicide’? Even cigarettes come with a warning label” (“The Sports Reporters,” ESPN, 2/3).’s Ray Ratto wrote under the header, “Roger Goodell Becoming ‘Concussion Commissioner.’” Goodell on Friday did his “usual hour of what he daintily described at one point as ‘reflecting positively on The Shield.’” Goodell’s administration is “coming to be defined by the dichotomy of prettying up a game that was designed to be its very antithesis.” Ratto: “In short, he is trying to hide what he is selling” (, 2/1).

GAME NOT GOING ANYWHERE:’s Jeffri Chadiha wrote, “Football will be fine. It's going through a difficult time. It's facing major challenges likes it's never seen before. But it's not going anywhere. The game will only grow stronger.” The truth is that football "means more to us than any other sport, and that's not going to change because of today's current issues.” But change “has to come.” There is “too much finger pointing, too many lawyers maneuvering to score major dollars for disgruntled retirees and too many sad, suicidal stories.” The game “must become tamer because too many current players don't think they'll end up like those battered men after football.” In many ways, they “do need to be saved from their own well-conditioned impulses.” The real challenge for Goodell is “making sure the heart of the game isn't surrendered in the midst of all these changes.” That is the “key to the entire sport's future” (, 2/1). CBS' Jim Nantz said he believes there is "no question there’s a link" between football and concussions, but there is "still a lot more research to be conducted to find out exactly how soon these athletes come back to perform." Nantz: "Do they come back too soon? Do they put them back in the game too soon? I really applaud what Roger’s been doing. I know there’s been an outcry about it (from) players around the league -- trying to make the game too safe, it’s taken away a contact sport. But I really believe he is trying to look after the future, not only of the sport, but also of these individuals. Somebody cries about he’s penalized or fined too much, but what they don’t realize is there are thousands of people right now lined up with lawsuits against the league. Talk to them about what their later life is like after football. He’s trying to look after your later life” ("Face The Nation," CBS, 2/3).

NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter has “effectively been stripped of all duties” while serving an indefinite suspension, according to Howard Beck of the N.Y. TIMES. Hunter is “barred from visiting the union’s office in Harlem and from using any union resources, including e-mail and credit cards.” His future is “likely to be decided Feb. 16, when the union holds its annual meeting at All-Star weekend in Houston.” The movement to “oust Hunter is already gaining steam.” Several NBAers have “publicly called for a change in leadership, and one of the NBA’s most influential agents, Arn Tellem, has urged his clients to fire Hunter.” Sources said that "at least 10 teams, including the Nets, are already committed to firing Hunter.” Nets F and NBPA rep Kris Humphries on Friday said, “Everyone I’ve talked to, it’s pretty clear that they’re looking for a change.” Bulls F and alternate player rep Joakim Noah said, “I don’t think the players are too happy, to be honest with you. I think there’s a lot of explaining to be done” (N.Y. TIMES, 2/2). The NBPA said that its All-Star Weekend meeting in Houston “may be revised so all players can attend without conflict.” Hunter's attorney Thomas Ashley said that his client “had been treated unfairly and had already taken steps to improve the union.” The AP’s Brian Mahoney noted Hunter “received a contract extension in 2010 to run through at least through 2015, yet the review said the players would have ‘powerful arguments’ if an attempt to remove him led to litigation” (AP, 2/1). 

PLAYERS WEIGH IN: Hornets G and NBPA VP Roger Mason Jr. said, "Personally, (I have a) lot of respect for Billy. I know he's a man of integrity. I know this is a tough time for our union. We have to get the facts. ... We'll get to the bottom of everything and everything will come to light at some point."’s Matt Moore reported Suns F and NBPA player rep Jared Dudley and Knicks F Steve Novak are "among players voicing their concern with Hunter.” Mason “seemingly voted in favor of placing Hunter on the leave of absence, as the vote was reportedly unanimous” (, 2/1). In Boston, Gary Washburn reported Celtics F and player rep Paul Pierce on Friday “called for the removal” of Hunter (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/3). In Salt Lake City, Bill Oram wrote Jazz G and player rep Mo Williams views Hunter's removal as "important stuff.” Williams said, "We are going forward as a union to try and get everything back on track. Obviously some things have been going on that we, as players, are trying to get more information about." Williams said that last season’s lockout “made players more aware of union issues” (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, 2/2).

HUNTER OR THE HUNTED? The BOSTON GLOBE’s Washburn wrote, "There appears to be a split in the ranks on Hunter, with many players wildly supportive because he has served as a father figure, and others believing he was soundly defeated in the last two labor negotiations by commissioner David Stern.” The question that will be answered in two weeks is “whether Hunter’s major adjustments have come too late.” Many players will “ask themselves whether Hunter would have made these changes” had NBPA President Derek Fisher “not called for this independent review” (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/3). SPORTS ON EARTH’s Gwen Knapp wrote Hunter’s behavior as leader of the union “has empowered the wrong people.” His contract “may not have spelled this out, but Hunter had to be pristine.” He had the “fates of hundreds of young men” in his hands and “allowing for a distinct appearance of impropriety amounted to a fumble.” His actions within the NBA “ultimately abetted agents who want more control of the union.” Hunter “weakened the ground below unions in the next rounds of negotiations” (, 2/3). 

NEXT ITEM ON THE AGENDA: SPORTING NEWS’ David Steele wrote the process of the NBA players “shoving Hunter out has begun,” and the evidence “against him is damning.” But as “usually is the case, they’d better have an idea about who can do a better job for them the next time the league goes after them.” Steele: “Against the will of this generation of owners, determined to take everything and give nothing, can any union leader, clean hands or not, expect to win?” (, 2/2). TRUE HOOPS’ Henry Abbott wrote, "Hunter's power, we have since learned, had grown to be nearly limitless within the union's gleaming Harlem headquarters.” Hunter's opposition “was absent, silent or (in the case of Pat Garrity a few years ago) shouted down.” Abbott: “How much better off might NBA players have been simply to have had an executive director focused more on executive directing?” Perhaps now, with Hunter “on indefinite leave and longtime staff attorney Ron Klempner filling in, the union can, for the first time in a long time, focus on serving the players more and the union's leader less” (, 2/1).