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Atlanta Dan
07-22-2013, 08:34 AM
This is a very well written (and long) article on how the NFL is trying to impose greater player safety while looking over its shoulder at pending lawsuits. It is told through the perspective of Howie Long and his two sons that are NFL players.

Some excerpts below

Do no harm: NFL tries to improve player safety without admitting to any liability for past
By Sally Jenkins and Rick Maese - The Washington Post

Kyle Long is going into the family business. “Some people are third-generation carpenters, and that’s what they do,” his father says. “Well, we hit people.” So it’s a good thing Kyle is shaped like a bullet, a streamlined 6 feet 6, 313 pounds, broad at the base, narrowing to a cleanly shaved head. His skull is so shiny and hard that it reassures his parents, Pro Football Hall of Famer Howie Long and his wife, Diane. “It’s like a double helmet,” his mother says....

It’s an industry struggling with a central question: How to protect the rookies who are the future without admitting to any liability for the past? A total of 4,300 former players — fully one-quarter of the NFL’s alumni — are suing the league, claiming it concealed the links between repetitive head trauma and chronic neurological diseases while profiting on violence. The concussion litigation has put billions of dollars potentially at stake.

Perhaps just as important, it has planted a question in the minds of the audience, including millions of parents, whether to steer their sons to another sport....

The Long boys dream of Super Bowl rings and perhaps a bronze bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, like their dad. Howie and Diane wouldn’t mind that, but what they want from the modern NFL is more modest and fundamental: that it take better care of their sons than it did of the father, who can barely turn his head....

If the Long sons were going to play the game, Diane and Howie decided, their father needed to help coach them, teach them the things to look for and be aware of. Howie volunteered to coach three days a week at his sons’ high school, St. Anne’s Belfield in Charlottesville. The boys still can quote the lectures: Football is a nasty game. There are bodies flying around — giant bodies, at all times, at high velocities. Be aware of where you are on the field.

Less than two months before his first preseason game, Kyle sat in the rookie symposium, his head already on a swivel as speaker after speaker prepped him for life in the NFL....

Day 2 of the rookie symposium was devoted entirely to health and safety. The head team physician for the Cleveland Browns, Mark Schickendantz, fired up a PowerPoint presentation and began talking....

He finished with a few remarks that captured the NFL’s double-edged, liability-conscious attitude toward concussions. “Right now, we’re learning a little bit more about long-term brain damage.” He added, “No direct cause and effect has been established yet.” Yeah right (my editorial comment, not the authors) coffee:

Howie Long played the game with an almost animal intensity. ... But with that came the physical price. Twenty years removed from his playing days, he has been told he needs at least three more surgeries, including a shoulder replacement....

Between watching one son on the field in St. Louis and another in Oregon last year, the Longs have been transformed from sophisticated NFL observers into anxious parents. Diane studies her sons through the lenses, looking for body language that might suggest an injury, checking the expressions on their faces. Howie watches for the unexpected danger that leads to injury, the busted play that alters the high-velocity traffic like cars going the wrong way down streets....

Even as league executives promise to safeguard the health of the next generation, they are disputing the problems of previous ones. ...

In January the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health wrote a fact sheet for former NFL players notifying them that they were at increased risk of brain and nervous system disorders. A NIOSH memo obtained by The Washington Post shows that someone from the NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee tried to persuade the government agency to remove a reference to chronic traumatic encephalothapthy, a degenerative disease similar to Alzheimer’s that researchers at Boston University have found present in 34 of 35 deceased NFL players whose brains were donated for study. In the memo, the NFL representative objected to the use of the term CTE because it would “give it an epidemiological validity that doesn’t yet exist.” NIOSH declined to alter the fact sheet....

Pressure from Capitol Hill, however, has lessened with a change in leadership; ...
That the NFL is conscious of congressional oversight can be seen in its increased lobbying expenditures, which have tripled since Goodell became commissioner in 2006 to $1.14 million in 2012.... A Post survey of public records shows team owners and their families have additionally contributed nearly $2 million to congressional campaigns in the past five years.

Two beneficiaries of NFL money are the two congressmen who succeeded Conyers as House Judiciary chair — and who’ve kept the NFL off the committee’s docket. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia) have each pocketed $15,000 from the NFL. Smith rejected two requests by Sanchez that new hearings be convened, and Goodlatte, the current chair, is on record saying Congress shouldn’t play “armchair quarterback” in NFL matters...

Nothing provokes more outrage in Howie Long than the campaign by league owners to expand the regular season from 16 games to 18, when they know it will lead to more harm. ...

“I get angry when I hear someone in a suit talk about, ‘What’s two more games? It’s not that much,’ ” Howie says. “You know what? Throw some stuff on and let’s go outside, and I’m gonna light your ass up. And we’re gonna do it again tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and then again next week. And you’re gonna start blanking and curl up into a ball.”...

Diane will have her binoculars and train them on the children she wouldn’t let cross the street without clutching their hands. She will watch the bodies slamming, the arms and legs flying. And she’ll focus on that pile, thinking, Get up.

“You tell yourself to breathe,” she says. “You tell yourself you can’t control what’s happening. Yet you don’t take your eyes off of it.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/redskins/nfl-tries-to-improve-player-safety-without-admitting-to-any-liability-for-past/2013/07/21/08fb66b8-e8d8-11e2-818e-aa29e855f3ab_story_4.html