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Ten-Point Stance: Some players just can't get safety through their thick heads

by | National NFL Insider
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The message isn't getting through, but the NFL is speaking clearly: Head shots are dead. May they rest in peace.

"The message we want to send is illegal shots to the head and neck area are our biggest concern," Ray Anderson, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, said in an interview with CBSSports.com. "We have more information than ever before ... that those are life-altering hits, not just career-altering hits."

That evidence is pretty clear. There is always a risk when playing a violent sport but head shots may cause particularly acute damage. We've seen the players who can't remember their names, stammer through sentences, can barely function on their own.

In writing a book about the 1972 Miami Dolphins, I spoke to one player from the team who couldn't finish his sentences. His wife had to do it for him. His memory was all but gone. Maybe it wasn't football that caused this extremely sad scene, but this player took some horrible head shots as a player.

Despite all of this evidence, and the need for the NFL to drastically change its culture, there remains an unbelievable amount of resistance from the dinosaurs in the ex-jockocracy and even current players who think the NFL is making the game soft by protecting the brains of its membership.

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"The NFL," said one player, "is trying to save us from ourselves, but what if we don't want saving? We all know this is a violent game. We take the risks."

"I hate it," said another player of this new emphasis.

"We've been following the ex-players who are outraged," said Anderson. "Our response is that the game has changed."

And that's the point missed by players and others. In the 21st century, there will be no more head shots, because the science shows that head shots may be the spearhead of life-altering damage to the mind. So, logically, you end the head shots.

What is so difficult to understand about this? Why is this even a controversy?

Sure, the NFL is doing this in part because of the mountain of pending lawsuits from thousands of ex-players. But so what? It doesn't change the fact that this type of move needed to be made.

The NFL's enforcement still isn't perfect. That is true. The league is, for the moment, asking defensive players to bear the weight of this new emphasis. There are still definitely murky areas but the NFL will solve these issues. Anderson said the league will continue to provide video examples of what violates the rule and use Hall of Fame defensive greats Ronnie Lott and Willie Lanier, among other former players, to help spread the message.

If it were up to some current players they would keep taking head shots until their brains began spilling out of their helmets. They are notorious short-term thinkers. They don't think 30 years from now, they think 30 plays from now.

One thing Anderson said was necessary was the use of suspending players because fines weren't working in stopping the head shots. "The fines weren't effective," he said, "so suspensions have to be on the table."

Anderson said that no matter what happened to Ed Reed's appeal -- the suspension was eradicated and Reed fined $50,000 -- the NFL would still aggressively pursue suspensions for head shots.

It's easy to scapegoat Anderson or Roger Goodell or other NFL brass. It's easy to say the sport is being turned into flag football. It may even be easy for current and former players to turn a blind eye to their brothers whose brains no longer function properly in part because of these hits.

Players, however, will no longer be able to ignore league directives about shots to the head, because now repeat offenders will pay with playing time and because of this fact, head shots will die.

"We will be relentless in enforcing this," Anderson said.

Good.

2. It wasn't just Plaxico Burress' workout with the Steelers that convinced the team to sign him. Burress' contrition also convinced them. He seemed like a new man. We'll see.

3. One general manager on the Burress signing: "It's a steal by Pittsburgh. If they can keep him in line, he'll produce. My guess is Plaxico learned his lesson. Being out of football and begging to get back in tends to do that."

4. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, as you know by now, has a broken arm. Tom Brady was asked if Gronkowski was in good spirits. Said Brady, who will lead New England against the Jets on Thanksgiving Day: "I haven't been thinking about his spirits, I've been thinking about the Jets."

Is it bad that I absolutely love that quote?

5a. Champ of the week: Greg Schiano, who continues to win despite some idiots (see: me) who said he would be an NFL bust.

5b. Chump of the week: The Raiders. Terrible.

5c. Tweet of the week: During the Eagles' loss to Washington on Sunday, Marcus Vick, brother of Mike, tweeted: "Yeaaaaa! Try everything n your handbook to save your ass FATBOY!!!!" Marcus said the tweet wasn't about coach Andy Reid but after he recently blasted Philadelphia's offensive line on Twitter, that is difficult to believe.

6. Unbelievably, the Texans can clinch a playoff spot this week. It likely won't happen because the scenarios that must fall into place are Da Vinci Code-like, but the fact they are even in this position illustrates their utter dominance this season.

7. Jon Gruden continues to speak to people around the league -- in hypothetical language -- to gauge interest in joining his hypothetical future staff.

8. The Jets, one of the loudest organizations in all of sports, are now keeping their mouths shut the week of the Patriots game. Finally wising up.

9. This notion that Bill Belichick is losing his genius moniker is asinine.

10. The last true quarterback controversy with the 49ers came in the early 1990s when Joe Montana, toward the end of his career, was being challenged by Steve Young. At the time, I was assigned a job by my then-employer, the Washington Post: get Montana to sit down for an interview. I phoned the 49ers and, surprisingly, Montana agreed to speak with me (he rarely granted one-on-one interviews).

I flew from D.C. to San Francisco on a Sunday for what had been a scheduled Monday interview. Montana, on that Monday, sent word through the PR department he couldn't do it but Tuesday would be good. Cool. No problem. Tuesday came and he couldn't do it until Wednesday. OK. Wednesday came and it had to be Thursday. OK. Thursday came and it had to be Friday. Sure. Then Friday came and Montana said the interview had to be on Monday.

At that point, I was slightly irritated. One of the team's PR guys was informing me of the news when out of the corner of my eye, I saw Montana, escaping out of a back door that led to the player parking lot. I ran after him as PR guys and security types chased me; it was a like a scene from 24. I caught up to Montana as he was getting into his car. "Gotta go," Montana said. As he closed the door, I stuck my foot in it, and the door slammed on my ankle.

Montana felt horrible and invited me into his car to talk. We did so for over two hours and he gave me one of the interviews of my life, basically saying that Young was trying to take his job. "Steve is on a big push for himself," Montana said.

If you think Kaepernick vs. Smith is a quarterback controversy, this is nothing. Montana vs. Young was the greatest quarterback controversy of all time and there wasn't even Twitter or stupid debate shows to add megatons to the situation. Nothing really has come close, simply because there have been few controversies, in any sport, where the caliber of players in it were so high. Montana is maybe the greatest quarterback of all time and Young is in the top 5-10 and maybe the greatest running quarterback of all time.

Yes, that was a true controversy.

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