Behind the Mic: PBS – “League of Denial”

 

PBS – “League of Denial”

Brett Favre said this week that he is suffering memory loss. He was sacked in the NFL a record 525 times. Brett Favre has now become the most high-profile football player to put the spotlight on head injuries in the NFL.

I love football. I have played it, coached it, and now broadcast it. I venture to guess that I have sat in the booth to broadcast over 1,000 football games. I still love the big play, the good block, the perfect pass and catch, and the big hit. I must admit, however, that I was shocked watching League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis on PBS Frontline several weeks ago. The hits that are shown are eye-popping. The medical descriptions and the traumatic effects are devastating. And the reaction by the NFL to the players of the past who have suffered both physically and mentally from these collisions is close to being “criminal”.

The documentary  focuses on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) resulting from head injuries in NFL players. CTE is a degenerative brain disease that has been diagnosed in former players, who have developed dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, which research suggests is the result of constant hits to the head. Research is now being conducted on current, active players.

A great deal of criticism is levied at the NFL in this documentary for their denial of the issue and even covering up and controlling the research. The suicide death of Owen Thomas, graduate of Parkland High School and University of Pennsylvania student, is discussed in depth as a warning of the dangers of the game even for younger players. He was only 21 years old.

Former and active NFL players have weighed in on the program:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/sports/league-of-denial/what-nfl-players-are-saying-about-league-of-denial/

Here is a small sampling:

Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints:
“I think certainly there were mistakes made in the past in regards to what people knew or how it was handled. But as we think about moving forward here, and especially when we talk about youth sports, there are protocols that need to be in place and that need to be followed to a T because obviously it’s very serious stuff.”

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers:
“I will not be watching. I know the risks that I take when I step on the field. I’m risking future health, future physical health and future mental health. I understand that.”

Troy Aikman, Dallas Cowboys, 1989-2000:
“I do not have a son. If I had a son, I wouldn’t necessarily discourage him from playing football, but I don’t know that I would encourage him to play either. I don’t know what the data show, but I haven’t sensed there’s been a reduction in head injuries. With that in mind, that’s concerning. As long as we’re having contact and as long as there are collisions, there’s going to be head injuries.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says he does not plan to watch the program and that the NFL just settled a $765 million lawsuit over this issue with past players. Part of the settlement, however, kept some information from getting out to the public.

There is no question that the documentary will make any fan think about their allegiance to the game. It will certainly make a parent think twice about encouraging their son(s) to play. Take a look at the program and come to your own conclusions.

 

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

1. In case you missed it, Lafayette freshman quarterback Drew Reed started his first collegiate game ever on Saturday at Holy Cross. He completed 21 of 22 passes (the last 20 in a row) for 283 yards and 5 touchdowns. He became the first freshman to win the Patriot League Offensive Player of the week award and the first to win both the Offensive Player and Rookie of the week awards concurrently. He also won the College Football Performance Award FCS National Player of the Week. His passing efficiency rating was 278.5, the second-highest single-game mark recorded this year. In his two appearances this year, he has more touchdowns (7) than incompletions (6).

2. No touchdowns by the offense again this week for the Eagles. There does not seem to be any fix for this mess either. Oakland up next in Oakland. Ugly!!

By the way, I saw the Eagles offense at its most bizarre when we traveled to Princeton to do the Lafayette game. The Tigers run Chip Kelly’s Oregon offense with no huddle, hurry-up, multiple formations, and wild personnel. On the first play of the game there was a center and one lineman on each side of him. The others were over five yards away AND there were THREE quarterbacks in the game! They do a great job of communicating the plays to the players. Only players who get admitted to Princeton would comprehend this offense. Princeton beat previously undefeated Harvard this past weekend 51-48 in triple overtime. That offense is still working.

3. If you really want to learn some of the intricacies of football, visit Inside The Huddle on www.goleopards.com . Mike Joseph does a great job explaining various aspects of the game.

4. This is the last week of the high school football regular season. League and conference champions will be crowned after this weekend and then the attention turns to Districts. Right now East Stroudsburg South is the #1 seed in AAAA; Southern Lehigh in AAA; Pine Grove in AA; Williams Valley in A. Don’t be shocked if none of the top seeds win the District title. Stay tuned.

5. RCN TV will broadcast Emmaus at Parkland Live on Friday night at 7:00 PM.  Mike Joseph and I will call the game.  Parkland is tied with Whitehall for first place in the LVC. Whitehall has what looks like an easy matchup with Northampton this week.

 

NFL PICKS FOR THIS WEEK (11-2: Last week; 78-42 overall 65%)
CINCINNATI
CAROLINA
DALLAS
NEW ORLEANS
TENNESSEE
KANSAS CITY
SAN DIEGO
OAKLAND
SEATTLE
CLEVELAND
NEW ENGLAND
INDIANAPOLIS
GREEN BAY

Behind the Mic – January 30th

President Obama was inaugurated for the second time this past weekend and gave a challenging, competitive inaugural speech aimed at the opposition party. Everyone heard his words and had an opinion about what he said on “both sides of the aisle”, as they say. He also made a comment that did not garner nearly as much attention; however, as a sports and football fan, it warranted some investigation and thoughts.

“I’m a big football fan,” Obama told the New Republic, “but I have to tell you, if I had a son, I’d have to think long and hard before I let him play football.” I still remember my own mother refusing to sign the permission form to let me play football. She finally relented when I went to high school and I played for four years.

This week, Rolling Stone magazine did a study: “This is Your Brain on Football” (Jan., 2013) which concluded that high school football is America’s most dangerous game.

The latest statistics indicate that 3.8 million Americans suffer a concussion on the playground or playing contact sports. The number is probably above 4 million because it is assumed that many concussions go unreported when they do not cause unconsciousness. As a result, the number could realistically be much, much higher. Many neurosurgeons are of the belief that no child should play tackle football until they turn 14. They report that concussive symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, fatigue, inability to focus, memory failure and lightheadedness can linger indefinitely. These symptoms can affect school, activities, and future mental development.

Those of us who played sports wonder why this problem is much more serious than it used to be. Kids have, without a doubt, gotten bigger, faster, and stronger. Doctors say, however, that the development of neck muscles have not. Combining the two has created some devastating consequences.

If the past is a precursor to the future, parents need look no further than the current state of the NFL in the court system. 4,000 former players are currently pressing claims for permanent brain damage. Every week, we watch games where some hits are so vicious that we feel somewhat guilty about enjoying the game so much. We know that these men are being paid quite well to take those hits, so I suppose this helps us assuage our reservations about the game.

P.S.: Girls are twice as likely as boys to suffer concussions when you consider all of the sports played by both genders which may subject them concussions. These include: soccer, lacrosse, hockey, or the leader in head trauma – competitive cheerleading! Did you know 37,000 cheerleaders in the US were taken to ER’s in 2011 alone?

Only football results in more traumatic injuries.

The good news (if there is any) is that prevention of these injuries is being studied by the medical and athletic communities. However, the quandary for parents remains: Would you let your son play football?


 

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. This past weekend, the Lafayette women’s and the Lafayette men’s basketball teams both beat their archrival, Lehigh. This feat had not been accomplished since February 23, 2008. They did not just win – the women won by 16 at home and the men won by 21 at Lehigh. It all happens again on February 23 and 24.
  2. “I went to the Pro Bowl and a basketball game broke out”. NFC-62 AFC-35. I would like to comment on the game, but I did not watch it (again)!
  3. San Francisco vs Baltimore on Sunday. Can anybody prove they had these two teams in the Super Bowl this year before the season began? QB’s Colin Kaepernick vs Joe Flacco – no Brady, no Brees, no Manning or Manning – go figure. By the way, the over/under in Vegas is 47.5. I would lean towards the under. The 49’ers are favored in Vegas by 3 ½. Although I am picking the 49’ers, I would lean towards Baltimore with the points.
  4. Speaking of predictions, Vegas picked Alabama to win the BCS championship next year. Notre Dame came in 11th as a 25-1 long-shot.
  5. “60 Minutes” interviewed USADA on Sunday and the head said Lance Armstrong lied throughout the Oprah interview and if he does not testify truthfully in front of that group, he will never compete again in cycling. I wonder what Dr. Phil will learn from the man who pulled the hoax on Manti Te’o?

NFL PICKS FOR THIS WEEK

(Last week – 1-1) (88-54 for the season – 62%)

SAN FRANCISCO – 24-21

The Sports Talk Shop – January 22nd

“SportsTalk Shop: HS Basketball Parody vs. Mediocrity”

Every few years, we have a high school basketball season like the one we have this year – lots of teams with similar records and “common opponents” knocking each other off with seemingly no single team, or even a couple squads, distancing themselves from the rest of the pack. Inevitably, we, as local sports fans, start to debate. Do we have a lot of really good teams this year, or are most teams merely average?

I actually feel we have more of the former. Here are some of the reasons why: field goal percentage, defensive points allowed, average, and turnovers.

First, field goal percentage. I don’t recall so many teams in recent memory that were shooting near 50-percent as a unit (no, I’m not going to bring up the woeful free-throw shooting percentage—that’s a whole other issue). The solid “FG” numbers indicate a good deal of high percentage shots being taken, which is a direct result of good execution. We’re seeing quite a bit of quality passes, good pick & rolls (yes, it’s back in style again), solid picks and some all-around good play. You could argue that this is a result of shoddy defense, but when you look at the points allowed, most teams’ numbers are down from a year ago, indicating an improvement in defensive performance. As for teams that are giving up more points than normal, like Easton, the Rovers have played in four overtime games, including two that went into double overtime. With the extra periods, it inflates their per game averages. However, if you look at quarter by quarter numbers, you’ll find nearly every team is playing better defense.

Secondly, the turnover numbers. Local teams are bucking the trend of actually cutting down on the number of turnovers per game. This despite a few teams trying to play a more up-tempo style of basketball. Most teams over the last few years averaged in the mid-teens, but I’ve seen quite a few teams averaging ten or 11 turnovers per game, which also supports the theory that teams are taking better control of the basketball, and, therefore, the quality is up from recent years.

One other point that supports more quality basketball in both the boys and the girls basketball teams, is that of depth. We’re seeing quite a few teams, shall we say “missing” players for various reasons (let’s just say I’ve heard a number of stories why players are not available to play this winter). Injuries or otherwise, teams are having to use their bench quite a bit more. In fact, both the Bangor girls and boys teams were without key players last weekend. Yet they got outstanding efforts from their reserves & younger players, and even members of their JV squad, that stepped up and battled some very strong teams last week. With more and more teams going deeper to their bench and getting quality efforts, it’s clear that there is an upswing right now in the level of play here in the Lehigh Valley. (Bangor, by the way, will be guests on “SportsTalk” this Thursday at 6pm to talk about their season).

Do I see any one Lehigh Valley team knocking off the powerhouse programs from the Philadelphia area, or even some of the top teams from the western part of the state? Probably not. But it has made for an entertaining season thus far. Do you think high school basketball is improving, or are we continuing down a trend of playing more of a ‘playground’ style that a number of long-time local sports fans have been lamenting the last several years? Send your comments to us at rcnsportstalk@rcn.com & we’ll discuss on our upcoming shows.