Quick Links

Column: Could football end up killing itself?

201301301211438845109-p2.jpeg

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.

-----

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

Quick Links

Five observations from Day 2 of Ravens training camp

Five observations from Day 2 of Ravens training camp

OWINGS MILLS – Five observations from Day 2 of Ravens training camp:

RELATED: DAY 1 OBSERVATIONS

1. Wide receiver Michael Campanaro had an impressive day.

— Campanaro consistently got open making decisive moves and catching the ball cleanly, whether lined up wide or in the slot. Injuries have been the main stumbling block during Campanaro’s career. But there is no doubt he can make plays if he makes it to Week 1 healthy. Unless he suffers another injury, I think Campanaro is on the 53-man roster, especially since he can also return punts.

2. Joe Flacco showed no discomfort practicing on his surgically-repaired knee for a second straight day.

— Flacco throw the ball crisply, he moved well in the pocket, and he smiled when on the sideline. If Flacco was thinking at all about his knee, he disguised it well.

3.  Rookie cornerback Tavon Young is a player to watch.

— Young made several nice plays on the ball, including an interception in which he showed good technique and ball awareness. A fourth round pick from Temple, Young is making a bid to earn playing time as a nickel corner. Jerraud Powers missed his second straight practice (failed conditioning test), and Young took advantage of the extra reps. It will be interesting to learn more about Young’s tackling ability when the Ravens begin practicing in pads.

4. Rookie fourth-round pick Chris Moore looks like a potential playmaker.

— Ravens corners are having trouble keeping up with Moore when he goes deep, including Jimmy Smith, who saw Moore race by on his way to a deep reception. With left tackle Ronnie Stanley, linebacker Kamalei Correa, Young, and Moore, the Ravens have the potential for an instant-impact draft class.

5. There is no getting around Stanley’s importance as a rookie.

— Stanley needs to continue looking good when the Ravens go to pads Saturday, and whenever linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil return from PUP. A potential Ravens deal with veteran left tackle Jake Long fell through Friday. The Ravens will be counting on Stanley, not only to start but to play well.

 

Quick Links

Long won't join Ravens, potential deal with LT falls through

Long won't join Ravens, potential deal with LT falls through

OWINGS MILLS – Veteran left tackle Jake Long won’t be joining the Ravens after all. A potential deal between Long and the Ravens fell through Friday, leaving Long a free agent according to Adam Schefter of ESPN, and confirmed by CSN.

The issue was Long’s right knee. He tore his ACL in both 2013 and 2014, leaving concern about how his knee would hold up if he returned to action. Long went to see Dr. James Andrews after taking a physical with the Ravens on Wednesday. According to a source, while Long was healthy enough to play, the Ravens were not comfortable being financially liable if Long’s knee failed to hold up.

The Ravens targeted Long as a potential backup for rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley. While Stanley has looked solid during practice, the Ravens have been searching for veteran insurance in case Stanley suffered an injury. Long is a former No. 1 overall pick (2008) and has more experience than James Hurst, who is currently the Ravens’ backup left tackle.

Now the Ravens have a roster spot available, which they may use to sign another offensive lineman, or to address depth at another position.

MORE RAVENS: FIVE OBSERVATIONS FROM DAY 1 OF RAVENS TRAINING CAMP

Quick Links

Mike Wallace finally passes conditioning test; allowed to join Ravens at practice

Mike Wallace finally passes conditioning test; allowed to join Ravens at practice

OWINGS MILLS – Ravens wide receiver Mike Wallace was back on the practice field Friday, after passing his conditioning test on the second try.

Wallace missed Thursday’s practice after he failed the test on his first attempt. Joining him on the field Friday was wide receiver Dobson Collins, who also passed the test on his second attempt.

The Ravens hope Wallace will return to the form he had early in his career, when he was a consistent deep threat for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Wallace was a disappointment during stints with the Dolphins and Vikings, but Joe Flacco’s ability to throw the deep ball could help Wallace rejuvenate his career.

RELATED: RAVENS TIGHT END LEAVES CAMP WITH INJURY

In other practice news, cornerback Jerraud Powers missed practice for the second straight day and remained the only player yet to pass the conditioning test. Running back Kenneth Dixon, who sprained his left knee Thursday, also did not practice.  

Ravens coach John Harbaugh was hoping the team would stay disciplined during the first day of practice in pads on Saturday.

“The biggest message when you put the pads on is, ‘You’ve been in pads before,’’’ Harbaugh said. ‘“Don’t overreact. It’s going to be fine.’…I want to get right into executing and keep building on what we’ve done the last two days.

“We’re not going to be out here tackling too much – especially the veteran guys. Let’s just go play football.”