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Thanks to Deflategate, Roger Goodell gets to ignore NFL’s concussion crisis at Super Bowl 02.02.17 at 8:11 pm ET
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At his annual pre-Super Bowl press conference Wednesday, Roger Goodell was asked five questions about Deflategate, a scandal about footballs that lost air pressure in cold weather. He didn’t receive any queries about the NFL’s concussion crisis, which kills more ex-players each year.

That’s a win for the commissioner.

Roger Goodell wasn't one question about concussions Wednesday.

Roger Goodell wasn’t asked one question about concussions Wednesday. (Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports)

Deflategate wasn’t spawned to distract from the issue of brain trauma, but it’s an unintended result of the interminable saga. The more time that’s spent talking about Tom Brady’s deflated footballs, the less time there is to delve into the recent tragic death of former Patriots running back Kevin Turner. CTE withered Turner’s body away to nothing, much like ALS would.

The NFL’s decades-long negligence towards treating head injuries came to the forefront three years ago, when PBS released its Frontline documentary, League of Denial. The film chronicles the work of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the first neurosurgeon who discovered CTE in an NFL player, former Steelers lineman Mike Webster.

As part of its effort to obfuscate concussion research, the NFL pressured Omalu to not go public with his findings. Last year, the New York Times compared the NFL’s attempts to downplay head injuries to that of the tobacco industry. An investigation found the two businesses shared lobbyists, lawyers and consultants.

These days, there’s no downplaying the link between football and brain trauma. Of the 96 deceased former NFL players whose brains have been tested at Boston University, 92 of them had confirmed cases of CTE. But that doesn’t mean Goodell hasn’t tried.

During his pre-Super Bowl presser last year, Goodell said there’s no more risk in playing football than sitting on the couch. The tone-deaf comment came just two days after Hall of Fame quarterback Ken Stabler was posthumously diagnosed with CTE.

Statements like those make it difficult to take the NFL seriously when it comes to combating brain trauma. Yes, the league deserves credit for donating $100 million to concussion research last fall. But given its checkered history, the NFL must always be looked at with suspicion. That’s why the recent report about concussions being down 11.3 percent this season shouldn’t be taken at face value. It’s doubtful that every concussion is being reported. Just three weeks ago, the Dolphins violated protocol when they didn’t remove Matt Moore from their playoff game against the Steelers after he had suffered a vicious hit to the head. It’s likely those kinds of incidents happen on a weekly basis. But unless it’s a quarterback or another skill position player, few viewers notice.

It’s debatable how much football fans care about the concussion epidemic. Participation in youth football is down 14 percent from its high in 2009, but up until this year, NFL ratings continued to soar. And though viewership decreased in 2016, the presidential race and a lack of quality games were probably the main reasons why. Ratings rebounded after the election was over.

The lack of interest in the film Concussion, which flopped at the box office, indicates there’s apathy surrounding the issue of brain trauma and football. Deflategate, meanwhile, unfolded like a celebrity trail. Tom Brady, the most famous football player in the world who plays for the most hated team, was accused of cheating. From a sexiness standpoint, the two stories don’t compare.

That’s why Goodell is still answering Deflategate questions. And he probably doesn’t mind, either. He won in the courts and reaffirmed his unilateral disciplinary power. It likely would’ve made him much more uncomfortable if Boston sportswriters fired off questions about Turner. There’s no dispute about the facts there: Turner died because he played football. Goodell can’t hide behind a court ruling.

The drama of Deflategate adds intrigue to Super Bowl week. Talking about dead football players would ruin the party.

Read More: Concussions, Deflategate, Roger Goodell,
Roger Goodell used a kid reporter as a human shield at embarrassing Super Bowl press conference 02.01.17 at 5:29 pm ET
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Roger Goodell used a kid reporter as a human shield at his annual Super Bowl press conference Wednesday. That’s how well the afternoon went for him.

It didn’t take long for the commissioner to start reeling. The third question he received came from the Boston Globe’s Ben Volin, who asked him if he regrets the way Deflategate was handled.

“No,” Goodell said. “We had a violation. We went through a process. We applied the discipline in accordance with our process. It was litigated, as you know, expansively, and validated by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.”

A couple of minutes later, the Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy followed up with a question about Goodell’s two-year absence from Gillette Stadium. The commissioner seemed annoyed, but still managed to answer calmly.

“I would tell you that it’s not awkward at all for me. We have a job to do,” he said. “We do our job. As I said, there was a violation. We applied a process and discipline and we came to the conclusion that was supported by the facts and by the courts.

Then Comcast SportsNet’s Tom E. Curran came with a fact-check. The appeals court, contrary to Goodell’s previous statements, didn’t uphold the NFL’s investigation. Instead, it confirmed his unilateral disciplinary power in the CBA.

Now Goodell appeared to be ticked.

“Tom, if you look at the Second Circuit Court, the decision they said is there were compelling, yet overwhelming facts here. That’s the point I just made,” he said.

Following an exchange about whether Goodell thinks there’s been an erosion of trust in the league –– shockingly, he doesn’t –– the commissioner tapped out. He called on the NFL’s “Play 60 Super Kid,” a seventh-grader named Sophie.

In comparison to previous years, Wednesday’s affair was understated. Goodell appeared lethargic, offering some dry remarks about the Super Bowl at the start of the press conference instead of his usual State of the League address. It was also moved up from its usual Friday afternoon time slot. Without a looming scandal, perhaps Goodell didn’t feel like there was any news he needed to bury.

Thanks to Donald Trump’s chaotic candidacy, and now presidency, the NFL is currently out of the spotlight. The league’s domestic violence crisis has faded to the background, despite Goodell’s disastrous handling of the Josh Brown situation earlier this season. Brown, who admitted to serially abusing his wife in journal entries, was only suspended one game following a domestic violence arrest. The former Giants kicker was placed on paid leave after his journal was publicized.

But since there was no video of Brown assaulting his wife, the story disappeared. Same with the concussion epidemic. Last week, the NFL claimed the number of reported concussions dropped by 11.3 percent in 2016. But there were no questions on that data, even though several teams appeared to violate concussion protocol this season. The most recent example came three weeks ago, when the Dolphins left quarterback Matt Moore in a game against the Steelers after he had suffered a brutal hit in their wild card matchup.

Painkiller abuse also wasn’t a topic, even though recently released emails between members of the Falcons brass from 2010 show they were concerned about players excessively taking opioids. Last summer, a federal judge green-lighted a lawsuit from more than 1,500 ex-players that says NFL coaches and employees recklessly pushed painkillers on them.

The only heat Goodell faced, outside of a couple of inquiries about the Chargers leaving San Diego, came from a throng of Boston reporters still obsessed with Deflategate. Towards the end of the proceedings, a reporter from WPRI Providence ask him if he had spoken to Tom Brady this season. Back on his toes, Goodell refused to comment, saying he doesn’t talk about private conversations with players. Shortly thereafter, the Boston Herald’s Tom Schattuck brought up the edited Patriots transcripts from Media Night, which omitted mentions of Donald Trump and Goodell. The commish pleaded ignorance, much like he did with the Barstool credentials ban.

“I am not aware of anything being deleted from transcripts or anything else,” he said. “I must tell you, that’s one thing I’m not responsible for around here is the transcription.”

Unfortunately for Goodell, Sophie couldn’t offer him another lifeline. Reporters are only granted one question.

Read More: Concussions, Deflategate, Falcons, patriots
TE Tony Scheffler retires after string of concussions 06.12.14 at 10:31 am ET
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On Oct. 6, 2013, Lions tight end Tony Scheffler suffered his third concussion in four years in a game against the Packers. The Western Michigan product was released from the team a few weeks later.

While the injury ended Scheffler’€™s tenure in Detroit, it would also ultimately end the tight end’€™s eight-year football career.

Scheffler announced his retirement Wednesday, telling The Associated Press that his history of concussions had “€œa lot”€ to do with his decision.

Selected in the second round of the 2006 NFL draft by the Broncos, Scheffler posted a career stat line of 258 receptions, 3,207 yards and 22 touchdowns with Denver and Detroit.

While he worked out with both the Chiefs and Bears and said that there was “moderate”€ interest in him this offseason, Scheffler ultimately determined that calling it quits was the better move.

Scheffler added that he plans on becoming a real estate agent and an assistant football coach at a high school in his hometown of Chelsea, Michigan.

Read More: broncos, Concussions, Lions, Tony Scheffler
NFLPA calls press conference to discuss player safety issues 02.01.13 at 9:51 am ET
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The NFL Players Association took advantage of having much of the football media in New Orleans Thursday, calling a press conference to discuss its complaints about safety issues.

Executive director DeMaurice Smith and union president Domonique Foxworth held the conference. Smith said the NFLPA will file a grievance if the NFL refuses to implement a system to verify the credentials of all team medical personnel, and brought up amendments related to player safety that the players’ union wants in the new CBA.

The union also wants the NFL to put independent neurological consultants on the sidelines during games to help diagnose and treat concussions. Earlier on Thursday, league general counsel Jeff Pash said the league expects to implement that plan next season, but Smith said the players union has not seen the proposal and details have not been confirmed.

The two sides also have yet to agree on the details of implementing blood tests for human growth hormone. Smith said the league has not agreed to using the type of independent arbitrator that Major League baseball uses, though Pash said the league recently made a new proposal to the players that he thinks will lead to an agreement.

Smith called out the NFL for locking out its officials at the start of this year, saying the use of replacement refs was “one of the most deliberate disregards of player safety that I think has occurred in the National Football League since our inception.”

Read More: Concussions, DeMaurice Smith, NFL, NFLPA
Former players say NFL hid brain injury links 06.07.12 at 2:17 pm ET
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The NFL is being accused of hiding information that links football-related head injuries to permanent brain damage of its former players, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court in Philadelphia on Thursday.

More than 80 pending cases are included, according to lawyers of former players, in the “master complaint,” which holds the NFL responsible for former players currently suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other neurological diseases. It also claims that the NFL glorified violence, especially though its NFL Films division.

“Let’s face it and be honest, I feel like the NFL has over the past decades — at least until ’08 or ’09 — kind of turned a blind eye to the seriousness of not only concussions … but the cumulative effect of [hits] and how these retired players are having so much difficulty in getting along in their daily lives,” said former Patriots and Eagles running back Kevin Turner, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

The complaint charges that, “The NFL, like the sport of boxing, was aware of the health risks associated with repetitive blows producing sub-concussive and concussive results and the fact that some members of the NFL player population were at significant risk of developing long-term brain damage and cognitive decline as a result.”

The plaintiffs include 2,138 players that say that they weren’t educated enough from the NFL about the repercussions of head injuries, according to an AP review of 81 lawsuits filed through May 25.

Read More: Concussions, lawsuit, NFL, Rumor Mill
Seven players file class-action lawsuit against NFL over concussion-related injuries 08.19.11 at 11:28 am ET
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Six former NFL players and one current player filed the first ever class-action lawsuit against the NFL over the league’s handling of concussions in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

The players ‘€” including two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Jim McMahon ‘€” accused the league of teaching tacklers to lead with their heads, improperly treating concussions and concealing for decades the connections between football and brain injuries. The suit seeks funds for medical monitoring and care.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said that while the league was not yet familiar with the suit, it would fight any claims of wrongdoing.

Another lawsuit against the NFL was filed in Los Angeles in July. In that case, 75 players alleged the NFL has concealed the dangers of concussions since the 1920s. That lawsuit also includes official NFL helmet manufacturer Riddel.

Because this new lawsuit is a class-action suit, however, it could potentially include any player who has ever suffered a concussion or head injury in the NFL.

“Our goal is much larger, perhaps more daunting,” said the players’ attorney, Larry Coben.

The other six plaintiffs are Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas; Mike Furrey, 34, wide receiver for four NFL teams since 2003; Wayne Radloff, 50, former Falcons and 49ers offensive lineman; Gerry Feehery, 51, former Eagles center; Ray Easterling, 61, former Falcons defensive back; and Steve Kiner, 64, former Cowboys linebacker.

Read More: Brian McCarthy, Concussions, jim mcmahon, joe thomas
Report: NFL players more vulnerable to MCI, a pre-Alzheimer’s form of dementia 07.18.11 at 10:26 am ET
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A new study presented Monday at the Alzheimer’€™s Association International Conference in Paris shows that retired NFL players are more likely to develop mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a pre-Alzheimer’€™s form of dementia, Time magazine’€™s Alice Park reports.

Unlike the effects of multiple full-blown concussions ‘€” whose connections to the degenerative neurological condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy have been heavily publicized ‘€” mild cognitive impairment has been linked to lower-impact hits, even those sustained in practice.

‘€œIt’s conceivable that by changing the ways players drill in practice, we could change things,’€ said Christopher Randolph, professor of neurology at Loyola University Medical Center.

Randolph said that blows to the head can split or tear the fibers linking nerve cells in the brain that enable higher-level thinking and memory. The brain builds up a reserve of backup cells, but repeated blows to the head can deplete that reserve.

Randolph also said helmets may prevent skull fractures, but the traumas that lead to MCI occur when the brain slams into the inside of the skull, something helmets can’€™t prevent.

The results of this study ‘€” which compared cognitive functions of retired players with healthy non-athletes of the same age and non-athletes of the same age diagnosed with MCI or Alzheimer’€™s Disease ‘€” are only preliminary, Randolph said. Future testing will need to take into account obesity, hypertension and diabetes, as well as genetic factors, all of which can lead to MCI.

Read More: Alice Park, Christopher Randolph, Concussions, mild cognitive impairment
MLB considering 7-day disabled list to address concussions 10.22.10 at 2:26 pm ET
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Amongst endless discussion and controversy surrounding the recent enforcement of the NFL’s helmet-to-helmet policy, Major League Baseball is also considering implementing tactics to help those with concussions. The Associated Press reports that Major League Baseball may create a 7-day disabled list solely for players suffering from concussions. The policy could be implemented as soon as next season, with a 7-day DL for concussions being as a complement to the current 15- and 60-day lists used for all injuries.

The proposal will be considered in the offseason by a new concussion subcommittee under baseball’s medical advisory committee. If passed, Commissioner Bud Selig and the MLB Players’ Association would have to approve the idea.

All four of the major U.S. sports have moved towards understanding and regulating concussion policies as scientific research on the health dangers of violent collisions continues to grow.

The NFL’s new stance on concussion policy led to imposed fines of at least $50,000 on three players — Steeler James Harrison, Falcon Dunta Robinson and Patriot Brandon Meriweather — after illegal helmet-to-helmet hits made last weekend. The league and Commissioner Roger Goodell are also prepared to hand suspensions to players who exhibit more of this violent conduct.

While concussion diagnosis and treatment is still an uncertain art, the NFL, MLB, NHL and NBA seem to agree that the safety and long-term health of players need too be addressed.

Read More: Concussions, Disabled List, Major League Baseball, Rumor Mill