Column: Could football end up killing itself?

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Column: Could football end up killing itself?

NEW ORLEANS (AP) The dustup over deer-antler spray didn't last long, which is probably just as well. No reason to ruin Ray Lewis' retirement, or the week-long spectacle of everything that is the National Football League in this party town.

On Sunday perhaps the biggest audience ever to see a Super Bowl will gather in front of televisions for parties of their own. The game has become America's unofficial national holiday, its tradition of chip eating, beer drinking and commercial watching as deeply ingrained in the country's fabric as turkey and stuffing.

We celebrate the game even as it takes a brutal toll on those who play it. Football is a hurt business, and the biggest cheers on Sunday will be for those who deliver the biggest hits.

So remember when you jump and down and holler and scream that former players, some of whom entertained us in Super Bowls past, are suffering in the worst possible ways because of the beating their brains took on the playing field.

That the NFL is finally waking up to the crisis is commendable. That it took this long is deplorable.

It's hard to comprehend, and it may be the ultimate paradox. But football itself could be the one thing that kills the NFL.

Baltimore safety Bernard Pollard suggested the other day that it just might, calling the on-field violence ``a car accident every play'' and expressing fear that one day a player might die on the field. This, from a player who was fined for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Patriots receiver Wes Welker in the AFC championship game and is considered one of the hardest hitters out there.

President Barack Obama, meanwhile, says if he had a son he would ``have to think long and hard'' about letting him play football.

And if commissioner Roger Goodell didn't get it before, he seems to get it now. In recent months, he floated the idea of eliminating kickoffs to cut down on concussions, and used much of his state of the NFL appearance Friday to talk about improving player safety.

``The No. 1 issue is: Take the head out of the game,'' Goodell said. ``I think we've seen in the last several decades that players are using their head more than they had when you go back several decades.''

It's too late for former players, some of whom suffer from debilitating brain damage caused by hits to the head. Some 3,500 of them are suing the NFL for not doing enough to protect them, including the family of star linebacker Junior Seau, who shot himself to death last May. Medical researchers who studied his brain said findings were similar to autopsies of people ``with exposure to repetitive head injuries.''

While the league celebrates its new Hall of Fame inductees and fetes former stars who can still walk and talk, it fights every inch of the way in court on fears the claims of injured players can hit owners where it hurts the most - their wallets.

If anything, the game has become more brutal since the first Super Bowl 46 years ago. The players are bigger and faster, and better equipment gives them the false confidence to go head-to-head with each other.

No sport worth playing should need neurologists on the sidelines to protect participants. But that's precisely what the NFL will have next year as it belatedly tries to contain the fallout from the concussion issue.

Count former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison among those who worry. He was fined repeatedly in his long career for helmet-to-helmet hits, and estimates he suffered 20 concussions on the field. Today he works as a television analyst and seems healthy, but said on the ``Costas Tonight'' Super Bowl special that he gets headaches from bright lights and playing golf and has some anxiety issues he believes were caused by concussions.

``I'm scared to death,'' he said. ``I have four kids, I have a beautiful wife, and I'm scared to death what may happen to me 10, 15 years from now.''

The issue was big this week as members of the 49ers and Ravens were asked repeatedly about the safety of the game they make their living from. Most players dismissed fears about their safety, saying they knew what they were in for when they signed up to play football. But, at the same time, the players' union released a survey showing eight out of 10 players don't trust team doctors.

Understandable, when they serve at the pleasure of their employers. Even more understandable if you play in San Diego, where the team doctor lost a malpractice lawsuit last summer and the Medical Board of California wants to revoke his medical license.

These are all serious issues that deserve serious attention. The game will never be totally safe, but it can be safer.

Enjoy the Super Bowl. Celebrate the unofficial national holiday.

And hope that Goodell is as serious as he claims in finding a way to keep players safer than they are today.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org orhttp://twitter.com/timdahlberg

AFC North: Bengals' Eifert expected to miss three months due to surgery

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AFC North: Bengals' Eifert expected to miss three months due to surgery

Bengals Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert will undergo ankle surgery, according to multiple reports.

Estimates varied on when Eifert would return, but he was not expected to be back on the field until at least mid-August.

Eifert suffered his injury at the Pro Bowl, which he left wearing a walking boot.

His ankle has not responded to treatment as well as Eifert hoped, and he could not join his teammates for OTA’s this week.

A first-round pick in 2013 (21st overall), Eifert led all NFL tight ends with 13 touchdown catches last season, and had 52 catches overall for 615 yards. Still only 25 years old, Eifert has emerged as a major weapon for the Bengals, and they have already picked up his fifth-year option.

The priority for the Bengals is to have Eifert ready for Week 1 when they visit the Jets. Ryan Hewitt, Tyler Kroft, and C. J. Uzomah will see plenty of reps at tight end until Eifert returns.

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NFL owners vote for modest changes to replay, shun overhaul

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NFL owners vote for modest changes to replay, shun overhaul

The NFL made modest changes to replay rules Tuesday, but did not institute major changes that some teams, including the Ravens, had proposed in recent months.

Owners voted for changes that slightly increased situations where plays can be reviewed, and when officials can turn to the league office for help during games.

Situations subject to replay review, which were not before, include:

- Penalty enforcement

- Proper down

- Spot of a foul

- Status of game clock

Plays not reviewable in the past, that can now be reviewed, include:

- Where a ball in the air crosses the sideline.

- Whether a player was blocked into a loose ball.

- Advancement by a player after either a valid, or invalid, fair catch signal.

- Whether player impetus forced a ball to travel into the end zone.

The Ravens made a proposal in March that would have made all plays reviewable except for offensive and defensive holding, offensive and defensive pass interference, illegal contact, illegal use of hands, and whether a quarterback, receiver, or kicker had been hit illegally. The Patriots had previously proposed that all plays be made reviewable, but that has also been resisted by the owners and the competition committee.

Each team will still be given two replay challenges per game, and will be awarded a third challenge only if the first two are successful.

Forsett's cousin is on The Bachelorette — and survived the opener

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Forsett's cousin is on The Bachelorette — and survived the opener

Because Monday Night Football only runs in the fall and winter, one would think that America's TV guide would be lacking a program full of intense, testosterone-driven competition between determined men during the summer time. But that's why ABC has given us The Bachelorette, a dating game show that'll come on once a week and features a woman named Jo Jo looking for love amongst a handful of guys wearing suits that are way too tight and sporting unhealthy amounts of hair gel.

Fine, so it's not a perfect substitution for four quarters of NFL action, but it'll have to do (it beats turning the TV off and interacting with loved ones, at least). And for Ravens running back Justin Forsett, The Bachelorette will actually be more than something he simply puts up on the screen when he doesn't want to watch The Departed, which is seemingly on at least once a day, again. That's because his cousin is a contestant striving for Jo Jo's heart.

Here's what Forsett had to say during the show's premiere:

Then, when asked which of the dudes he was related to, he responded:

When looking through The Bachelorette's cast, there's no Chris, but there is a Christian, whom must be the person Forsett is referring to. As far as how Christian's debut went? Well — to put it into football terms — he picked up a win in Week 1:

Of course, Forsett was unable to escape the night without being on the receiving end of some ridicule. Former Jaguars star (and teammate of Forsett's in 2013) Maurice Jones-Drew fired this message off after seeing the Ravens' workhorse's original post in which he said he hopes Christian would come out on top:

Well, Christian survived the opener, at least. Whether he's able to keep the drive going and eventually cross the goal line as the show's champion, though, is something that will only be revealed in the coming episodes. 

(Author's note: Writing about The Bachelorette while using football metaphors helps make writing about The Bachelorette feel more acceptable). 

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