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Volume 24 No. 117

Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith has been selected by a 14-player committee to lead the organization for at least the next three years, union officials announced last night on Twitter. "The NFLPA selection committee has unanimously selected DeMaurice Smith to continue in the role as our Executive Director," NFLPA President Eric Winston tweeted around 9:00pm ET. "Congratulations to De and we know there is more work to be done." Smith tweeted, "The union is centered on player leadership. I am proud of their commitment, humbled by their trust in me and honored to serve. There is more work to be done." NFLPA Assistant Exec Dir of External Affairs George Atallah said the union would not be commenting beyond those two tweets. Smith was elected under a new election process in the NFLPA constitution, the terms of which just became public in the last several weeks. Under the old rules, any three player team reps could put up a candidate for Exec Dir and there would be an election. The rules were changed after eight different challengers received recommendations to run against Smith in '15. As part of the new constitution, a selection committee of 14 players determine the fate of the Exec Dir. The new rules dictate that the Exec Dir serves a term no less than three years and no more than five. ESPN's Jim Trotter, who first broke the news last night, reports Smith's term will run through '21. The current CBA expires in March '21. Smith's current contract was set to expire in March (Liz Mullen, Staff Writer).

Mehri said the selection of Smith does not
represent the choice of NFL players
MEHRI VOWS TO KEEP FIGHTING: Smith's election comes as DC-based attorney Cyrus Mehri was actively campaigning for the position, including calling NFLPA player reps to get their support. Mehri last night said the selection of Smith does not represent the choice of NFL players. "This disenfranchised 2,100 players and robbed players of the ability to determine their own destiny; robbed players of considering viable candidates, new ideas and new approaches," Mehri said. "But the good news is over time we are going to turn this around." Mehri vowed to continue his fight. He said, "We are going to fight for players' choices and fight for their ability to choose their own destiny. We are going to right this wrong" (Mullen). Mehri said, "There are players on 26 NFL clubs that were not represented in this vote. (The players) were instructed not to look at other viable candidates, such as my campaign. [Smith's] legitimacy has been thrown out the window, because he refused to compete like NFL players do every day." In DC, Mark Maske cited a source which responded to Mehri’s characterization of the voting process by pointing out that the NFLPA constitution "is a publicly available document included in the required annual filing with the U.S. Department of Labor" (WASHINGTON POST, 9/20). ESPN's Field Yates said, "I don't think anyone ever felt as though there was a strong chance that DeMaurice Smith was going to be unseated from his post.” Yates: “Are there players that are satisfied with the job he's done entirely? Probably not. There other areas you could point to and say, ‘I'm not sure that went as the players wished it had gone under De's watch.’ The same time, there was no traction for a strong candidate to oppose De Smith" (“Mike & Mike,” ESPN Radio, 9/20).

READY TO RUMBLE? NBC's Mike Florio notes the NFLPA is now "locked in with De Smith as they embark on the final three years of the current labor deal." With Smith’s new contract coinciding with the end of the CBA, the union is "probably going to keep Smith for another three-year term beyond that." Florio: "I don’t see that it would make any sense whatsoever that it would change leaders of the organization in just a matter of months before that” ("PFT," NBCSN, 9/20). YAHOO SPORTS' Frank Schwab wrote Smith and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell facing off over the next CBA is "like a boxing card that’s announced years ahead of time." Smith has "seen many people threaten to take his post, but he keeps lasting in his job" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/19).

TWITTER REAX: Pepperdine sports law professor Alicia Jessop tweeted, "NFL players walk a tightrope in retaining Demaurice Smith. His NFLPA signed off on a CBA giving Goodell the most power of any commissioner." ESPN's Darren Rovell: "After all that has gone on over the last few years, NFL players re-elect DeMaurice Smith in a unanimous vote. I'm confused." The MMQB's Albert Breer: "The upshot of this for the NFLPA is that DeMaurice Smith will lead all negotiations with the NFL thru the '21 expiration of the current CBA." WJFK-AM's Eric Bickel: "De is relentless & brilliant."

Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones yesterday confirmed he is "part of the negotiation on behalf of all the owners" for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's new contract, according to Mike Florio of PRO FOOTBALL TALK. Jones, appearing on Dallas-based KRLD-FM, addressed the report that he was slowing down negotiations, saying you are "not always going to be on the same side of the fence with the Commissioner." Jones said, "When he’s negotiating to extend his contract, he’s negotiating and the league is in a position of negotiating with him. So it shouldn’t surprise anybody that you’re not always on the same side of the ledger." He added, "You could certainly be supportive of Roger Goodell but not necessarily in agreement with terms or if you will structure of his contract. That’s the point of the negotiation" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 9/19). USA TODAY's Nancy Armour writes the owners "could replace Goodell with a commissioner who has a better appreciation for the social issues confronting the NFL" and is more "receptive to working with the players union." Armour: "But why would they want that?" Goodell’s "greatest strength as commissioner is not his marketing ability, his legal smarts or his people skills." It is his "willingness to do the owners’ bidding, and take the blame when things go south." It is a model that has "made them all ridiculously wealthy, Goodell included, and there is zero incentive to mess with it" (USA TODAY, 9/20).

The issue of poor offensive play during the first two weeks of the NFL season was a main topic on the afternoon TV talk shows yesterday, with ESPN's Dan Le Batard calling it a "plague that is hurting football aesthetically." He said he is "turning away from football games -- and I never used to do that -- because I'm tired of this style of play” (“Highly Questionable,” ESPN, 9/19). FS1's Jason Whitlock said the NFL has "set up all the rules for you to score as many points as possible," but in the process, the league has "destroyed ... unpredictability." Whitlock: "You used to turn the ball over at the quarterback position. Now they're throwing 50 times a game and only throw seven, eight interceptions all year. The game used to be unpredictable and more exciting. They have exchanged exciting for efficiency" (“Speak for Yourself,” FS1, 9/19). ESPN’s Marcus Spears said he has been “bored to death with the NFL game” so far this year. However, he added, “Everybody just needs to pause a little bit. We know what this game is, we know what it’s going to get to, and at some point it’ll be there” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 9/19).

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT? Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio attributed the number of low-scoring games to the "reduced intensity of training camp practices." The reduced number of padded practices does not "get the body and the mind to where it needs to be to come out of the gates Week 1 and be ready to go." Florio: "It makes September the new preseason. They haven’t reduced the preseason, they’ve expanded it because the preseason games have been less meaningful." He added he does not know "what they do to fix this, because I don’t think the players are going to gladly assume more time at off-season workouts, more intense practices." Browns LT Joe Thomas said he could "make some parallels" between lack of practice time and early-season struggles, but he noted there were some "bigger issues" that he sees. Thomas: "Colleges aren’t running pro-style offenses anymore, so the vast majority of players getting drafted have no experience running pro-style techniques.” He added, "What you’re seeing right now is an imbalance in valuing older veteran offensive lineman versus younger players. Since the rookie salary cap was placed in the last CBA, you’re not seeing teams that value veteran players the way they used to" (“PFT,” NBCSN, 9/20).

TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING: FS1's Colin Cowherd said the NFL "should be concerned about greed" more than bad play. He said, "You used to have a 1:00 window and a 4:00 window, and you got to prepare for a week. Then the NFL said, ‘We're going to put a couple teams on Thursday, and then a couple teams in London.’ You've got teams traveling overseas, teams on short weeks, teams beat up and not ready to play. What do you know, offenses struggle.” Cowherd: “This league has taken the 1:00 window and given it to London, one Monday night has two ‘Monday Night Football’ games and they put the games on Thursday. Play at 1:00, play at 4:00, play on Monday, teams are rested. This is about greed” ("Speak For Yourself," FS1, 9/19).

Fourteen of the NBA's 30 teams "lost money last season before collecting revenue-sharing payouts, and nine finished in the red even after accounting for those payments," according to confidential financial records cited by Windhorst & Lowe of ESPN.com. The gap between the league's "most profitable teams and its weaker siblings will be addressed" at the league's BOG meeting on Sept. 27-28 in N.Y. Sources said that owners have "planned a half-day review of the league's revenue-sharing system." Ownership sources said that some teams in smaller markets "struggling to keep up with a fast-rising salary cap have pushed the league's richest franchises to share more of their profits." The nine teams that "lost money," by the league's accounting for net income (which includes revenue sharing and luxury tax payments), were the Hawks, Nets, Cavaliers, Pistons, Grizzlies, Bucks, Magic, Spurs and Wizards. The NBA's new $24B TV deal was "believed to be a potential panacea for the league's revenue disparity." But the data from the first year of the deal "shows the gap between the have and have-not franchises remains extremely wide." According to the documents, 10 teams transferred $201M "combined in revenue-sharing to 15 other teams." Four teams -- the Warriors, Knicks, Lakers and Bulls -- accounted for $144M, or 71.5%, of those "revenue-sharing transfers." Windhorst & Lowe noted "none of this is to say the league is struggling." Critics of the system want to "tweak it, not blow it up." These numbers "focus only on basketball operations; several teams own their arenas, and revenue they generate from hosting non-basketball events is not included in the league's basic financial reporting" (ESPN.com, 9/19).

BRIDGING THE GAP: ESPN's Brian Windhorst said there is a "humongous difference between the haves and have nots in the NBA." The Lakers essentially "make in one week" what the Grizzlies make "in the entire season in local TV revenue." Windhorst said almost $200M was "transferred from the richer teams," like the Knicks, Lakers and Bulls, to teams in the smaller markets, like the Hornets and Grizzlies, so the system "is working" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 9/19). ESPN's Rachel Nichols said the small-market teams "need to exist to have an NBA, so subsidies and revenue-sharing make sense." Nichols: "On the other hand you do hear complaints from teams that we know are well run and have good management, there are some teams in the NBA that are not as well run as other teams" ("The Jump," ESPN, 9/19). NBCS Bay Area's Ray Ratto said the "interesting thing" about the ESPN report is that there are owners "talking about changing the revenue-sharing to the point where every team makes money, which means that's a lot of money coming off the Warriors' bottom line" ("The Happy Hour," NBCS Bay Area, 9/19).

Royals LF Alex Gordon last night hit the 5,694th homer of '17, breaking MLB’s "all-time record for homers in a single season," cementing a "new era of power in baseball," according to Rustin Dodd of the K.C. STAR. The old mark was set in '00, at the "height of baseball’s so-called Steroid Era" (K.C. STAR, 9/20). The AP's Ian Harrison notes there were 5,610 homers last year, an "average of 2.31 per game, and this year’s average of 2.53" entering yesterday’s action projects to 6,139. That would be up 47% from 4,186 in '14" (AP, 9/20). YAHOO SPORTS' Jeff Passan notes "two dozen teams" are scoring at least 40% of their runs on home runs. A decade ago, that number "was three." Additionally, 231 hitters have "whacked at least 10 home runs," which breaks the previous record by 14 hitters, and it will only "grow over the next two weeks" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/20).

READY FOR LAUNCH (ANGLE): In N.Y., Tyler Kepner notes data on launch angles and exit velocity is now "readily available to show the precise bat path needed to hit a ball hard and far." Players like D-backs RF J.D. Martinez, Blue Jays 3B Josh Donaldson, Nationals 2B Daniel Murphy and Dodgers 3B Justin Turner have all made a "dedicated effort in recent years to hit more balls in the air" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/20). USA TODAY's Jorge Ortiz notes the emergence of MLB’s Statcast system has "provided players a tool to assess what kind of drives are less likely to get caught, and as a result hitters have increasingly tailored their swings to get more loft and beat defensive shifts" (USA TODAY, 9/20). FS1’s Nick Swisher said players are "trying to do different things now." Swisher noted he had a shift put on him when he played and hitting ground balls in that situation "is the worst thing you can do." Swisher: "You’re trying to elevate baseballs, put them in the seats. You put them in the seats, you make more money” (“MLB Whiparound,” FS1, 9/20). Cubs 3B Kris Bryant said, "Guys are throwing harder, and the harder it comes in, the harder it goes out." Cubs manager Joe Maddon said, "I do believe the (higher) launch angle (of hitters) trying to do that more intentionally has something to do with it" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 9/20).

ALL-OR-NOTHING APPROACH
: In San Diego, Dennis Lin notes Padres C Austin Hedges is an "example of how modern players have traded contact for distance." Hedges entered yesterday's game batting .210 but with 18 home runs in 113 games. He said, "I'm definitely trying to hit the ball in the air. Not necessarily hit a home run, but I’m looking to drive the ball. I feel like unless you’re a fast lefty, there’s no reason to really hit the ball on the ground." Lin notes the leaguewide record for strikeouts will "rise for a 10th consecutive year." Sacrifices, hit-and-runs and other, more subtle forms of offense have been "scrapped in favor of all-or-nothing approaches" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 9/20). MLB Network's Dan O'Dowd said, "The game is more exciting for me from a viewer’s standpoint when the ball is put into play. You see the tremendous athleticism of our players actually take place on the field when the ball is put into play on a regular basis. Though I understand the dramatic nature of home runs, I think we’re getting at a point in time where we need to come back a little bit and we need to start playing a different game of baseball” ("MLB Now," MLB Network, 9/19).

Judge has 44 home runs and 198 strikeouts, symbolizing a new approach to hitting
IS THE JUICE LOOSE? ESPN.com's David Schoenfield asks, "Where are all the 2017 home runs coming from?" Rookies are "hitting a lot." Entering yesterday, they had "hit 708 home runs, the most by rookies in one season and nearly double the total" that rookies hit in '00 (363). Yankees RF Aaron Judge has a "chance to break" Mark McGwire's rookie record of 49 set in '87, while Dodgers 1B Cody Bellinger with 38 homers is "tied for third most by a rookie." While PED use is often mentioned, the "most likely answer ... is a change in the way the ball is manufactured" (ESPN.com, 9/20). CBSSPORTS.com's Mike Axisa noted there has been "widespread speculation the ball is juiced and changes to the baseball have allowed it to travel farther." MLB denies that theory, but it is "possible changes have been made to the ball, perhaps unintentionally, that have led to it flying out of the park even while conforming to MLB standards" (CBSSPORTS.com, 9/19). Cubs 1B Anthony Rizzo said believes the balls are juiced and compared it to inflating a football. He said, "The range where it can be, it's probably on the high end" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 9/20). ESPN's Mike Greenberg said, "It’s not that complicated, it's the ball." He said, "If everyone is using the same ball but the ball is a little more prone to going out of the ballpark, I don't think that is a problem. I don't think it’s a bad thing, I don’t think it’s something you need to hide” ("Mike & Mike," ESPN Radio, 9/20).

PLAYERS GETTING STRONGER: MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said players are “bigger, stronger, faster” today, which has contributed to the home run record. He added that there has been a “really significant change in the way that the game’s being played and taught to young people." Manfred: "You’re seeing the results of that at the big-league level” ("Angels Live," FS West, 9/19). FS1’s Dontrelle Willis said, “Guys are just naturally stronger. Everybody is squatting and lifting and getting stronger all-season long. ... It’s just the evolution of humans in baseball and the game” ("MLB Whiparound," FS1, 9/19).

STILL DIGGING THE LONG BALL
: The GLOBE & MAIL's Cathal Kelly writes under the header, "Baseball Is Becoming More Fun. Why Not Just Enjoy?" Setting a new home run record is "great news" for MLB. Kelly: "What sport would not want its single most exciting element happening as often as possible?" As long as the change "does not tend to advantage any one team over the others, offence can increase limitlessly without impacting competitive balance." Nobody has "suggested anyone is cheating." Baseball has just "become a little more fun to watch" (GLOBE & MAIL, 9/19). MLB Network's Kelly Nash said, "It is fun to watch. ... When you see the fly ball revolution in full effect with everybody trying to launch the ball with more launch angle, it plays out right. Definitely more entertaining” (“The Rundown,” MLB Network, 9/19).

The Canucks and Kings will play a pair of preseason games in Beijing and Shanghai this week, the first time NHL games will be contested in China and something the league believes is "well worth the investment," according to Dan Robson of SPORTSNET.ca. Whether the games will have an "impact on developing the NHL brand in the Far East remains to seen." NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the idea for the games first began "probably a year, to two years ago." Daly: "In prior years, our international strategy had probably intentionally omitted the Far East, in part because of a lack of hockey interest and infrastructure. ... We’ve evolved now to a point where I think that the game is in a really good place and we have an opportunity to invest in a more significant and impactful international strategy that includes investment at the grassroots level to build interest and participation in the sport, and that will be vital to our strategy in China" (SPORTSNET.ca, 9/16). In California, Clay Fowler noted with Beijing hosting the '22 Winter Games, China has "set in motion a massive movement to develop youth sports of the winter variety." Estimates are that China will have "more than 500 hockey rinks completed less than three years from now, meaning only Canada, Russia and the U.S. will have more" (SAN GABRIEL VALLEY TRIBUNE, 9/18). Canucks C Henrik Sedin said, "It's a big market. If we can get that market on our side and interested in our brand and sport, it's going to be huge for us" (CP, 9/18). Golden Knights D Jason Garrison: “If you can bring in more viewers and create worldwide interest in this sport and this league, there’s only good things to come from that” (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 9/18).

MAKING A COMMITMENT: In Vancouver, Ed Willes noted the NHL, NHLPA and IIHF are "prepared to play the long game in China" because they can "see the potential rewards." China-based streaming platform Tencent two years ago signed a five-year deal with the NBA for $700M. The NHL has a similar deal "worth a fraction of that." However, NHLPA Exec Dir Don Fehr said, "It's a start." Additionally, Game 1 of the Penguins-Predators Stanley Cup Final last June drew 22 million viewers in China, more than double what it drew in the U.S. and Canada combined. It is the "sheer size of the Chinese market along with the availability of capital that has created a gold-rush mentality in the game." Chinese investors have "poured billions into European soccer," and they are now "looking for similar opportunities with NHL teams." The Bruins have "struck up a sponsorship deal" with packaging company ORG, which is title sponsoring the two Kings-Canucks games this week, and Capitals Owner Ted Leonsis also is "interested in China" (Vancouver PROVINCE, 9/19). In L.A., Curtiz Zupke notes the Kings and Canucks will "conduct youth clinics and a hockey demonstration with kids at a Shanghai mall." A China-based NHL partner, Bloomage Int'l Culture & Sports Development Co., is also "helping to expose the sport." There also is a "mandate to build hockey rinks in China, with the goal of having 300 million people playing winter sports in the next six years" (L.A. TIMES, 9/20).

The Overwatch League’s inaugural season will launch in January with 12 teams. Activision Blizzard confirmed the buyers of the final three city franchises to be sold: Comcast Spectacor (Philadelphia); Team Envy (Dallas), with capital backing from Hersh Interactive Group, led by energy magnate Ken Hersh; and OpTic Gaming (Houston), with capital backing from an entity led by investor Chris Chaney and MLB Rangers co-Owner Neil Leibman. Those deals were first reported by ESPN. Terms were not disclosed, but OWL Commissioner Nate Nanzer said these three transactions were similar to the first nine. Sources have said prior franchise spots sold for $20M. Opening Day will be Jan. 10 and run through June, with playoffs and finals set for July. The 12 teams will debut in a series of exhibition matches starting Dec. 10, Blizzard said. All contests will be at a new studio built by Blizzard at Burbank Studios. Blizzard eventually wants to develop a 28-team league, and will continue sales efforts hoping to land additional buyers for a second season. That process will focus on building out its international aspirations. Of the 12 charter teams, nine are American. “We want to focus more on global, more teams from outside North America,” Nanzer said. “More teams in Europe, additional teams in Asia. That doesn’t mean we won’t continue to sell teams in North America." 

TEAM BUILDING: Comcast Spectacor must build an Overwatch team and an esports infrastructure from scratch, like the Kraft Group and Jeff Wilpon’s Sterling.vc are doing for their franchises in Boston and N.Y. as part of new league requirements. Envy and OpTic are both long-established brands in esports with teams in multiple titles. "It was a lot to ask at first,” said OpTic CEO/Owner Hector Rodriguez. “I was a little bit hesitant, but once I got to understand the many reasons for the change, I think it will make sense. I think there’s going to be a little bit of a growing pains when we start to explain it to our fans that we’re still OpTic. We’re just doing this as a separate deal." Envy CEO & Owner Mike Rufail said it is smart for the long term. “In the future, if we’d like to sell the team, and raise capital for that specific team in the Overwatch league, it’s better off as a separate brand and a separate enterprise,” Rufail said. OpTic is based in Chicago but will have its Overwatch operations in Houston. Envy is based in Charlotte but is scouting locations in the Dallas area. The other nine teams and owners are: L.A., Kroenke Sports & Entertainment; L.A., Immortals; S.F.; NRG Esports; Boston, Kraft Group; N.Y., Sterling.VC; Miami, Misfits; London, Cloud9; Seoul, Kevin Chou, co-Founder and former CEO of mobile game developer Kabam; Shanghai, NetEase Inc. 

Two weeks after having its D-II status revoked, the NASL yesterday "filed a federal anti-trust lawsuit" against the U.S. Soccer Federation that claims the sport's NGB and MLS have "conspired to 'destroy' it," according to Mark Zeigler of the SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE. N.Y. Cosmos Owner and NASL BOD Chair Rocco Commisso said the USSF "left the NASL with no choice except to file this lawsuit." Zeigler notes the future of the league, which "planned to include" an '18 expansion in San Diego, now "likely rests in the hands of a federal court." The NASL "asked for two things in its 71-page complaint: a temporary injunction that preserves its second-division status; and a permanent injunction preventing U.S. Soccer from sanctioning pro leagues so that 'the competitive market and consumer preference' determine which ones 'are top tier, second tier or some other competitive level' instead of arbitrary standards set by the federation." The second demand "could take years, dozens of lawyers and millions of dollars." The temporary injunction, though, may be "more integral to the league’s immediate survival and the prospects of the fledgling San Diego franchise" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 9/20). ESPN FC's Jeff Carlisle noted the NASL's complaint "alleges that the USSF has violated federal antitrust laws through its anticompetitive 'division' structure that splits men's professional soccer for U.S.-based leagues based on what the NASL describes as 'arbitrary criteria that the USSF has manipulated to favor Major League Soccer.'" The release also said that the USSF's "business arrangements 'include multi-million dollar media and marketing contracts with Soccer United Marketing, MLS's marketing arm that also jointly sells and markets MLS rights combined with rights to U.S. national soccer teams operated by the USSF'" (ESPNFC.com, 9/19).

WHAT'S NEXT? SI.com's Brian Straus wrote if the NASL is "granted the injunction, it theoretically would maintain" its D-II status next year. That might provide an "opening to fight against the standards themselves -- which govern stadium and market size, owner investment and net worth, facilities and other criteria -- along with the alleged conspiracy among U.S. Soccer, MLS and the USL, which affiliates to the higher league" (SI.com, 9/19).

Playing tackle football under the age of 12 "exposes children to repetitive head impacts that may double their risk of developing behavioral problems and triple their chances of suffering depression later in life," according to a front-page piece by Bob Hohler of the BOSTON GLOBE. The study was conducted by Boston Univ.'s CTE Center and was published yesterday in Nature magazine’s journal Translational Psychiatry. The research "provides the most powerful evidence to date that playing contact football before age 12 may cause brain changes throughout life." The study "stopped short of recommending policy or rule changes for youth football, stating that additional research is necessary." The new study "says the consequences include behavioral and mood impairments such as depression and apathy." In a statement, Pop Warner "appeared to cast doubt on the findings." Pop Warner said participants “played youth football 40 years ago. Youth football has evolved significantly since that period and the major changes Pop Warner has implemented have revolutionized the sport, making it safer and better than ever before" (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/20).

CHILLING FINDINGS: In DC, Rick Maese reports younger football players were "three times more likely as those who took up the sport after age 12 to experience symptoms of depression." BU CTE Center Dir of Clinical Research Robert Stern, who co-authored the study, said that the findings were "not affected by the number of concussions the former players reported," meaning the dangers "posed by football can’t be boiled down simply to big hits to the head" (WASHINGTON POST, 9/20). In N.Y., Ken Belson notes the results of the study were "based on a sample of 214 former players, with an average age of 51." Of those, 43 "played through high school, 103 played through college and the remaining 68 played in the NFL." The study is "consistent with earlier findings by Stern and others that looked specifically at NFL retirees." That research "found that retirees who started playing before 12 years old had diminished mental flexibility compared to those who began playing tackle football at 12 or older." Participation in tackle football by boys ages 6 to 12 has "fallen by nearly" 20% since '09, though it rose 1.2% to 1.23 million in '15 (N.Y. TIMES, 9/20).