Jovan Belcher Likely Had CTE

On Monday, ESPN’s Outside The Lines reported that former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher was suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, when he killed his girlfriend before committing suicide in December 2012. Belcher, only 25 at the time of his death, is one of dozens of deceased football players that have been found to have severe brain damage after doctors were able to study their brains. CTE is an early form of dementia and affects the mood and memory. Chris Benoit, a professional wrestler who also committed a murder-suicide, was also found to be suffering from CTE.

Last year, the NFL came to a settlement with retired players over head injuries that they had sustained. The settlement was for $765 million, with the determination of the awards for individual players based on the severity of their injuries. The NFL also agreed to set aside money for education, research and medical examinations. In typical NFL style, the league did not admit any guilt with the settlement. Instead, they hoped putting aside some money for old, debilitated players whose lives were wrecked would be enough to make the problem go away. The same went for certain rule changes on the field.

Well, fast forward a year and the league is dealing with the fallout of a rash of domestic violence incidents. Commissioner Roger Goodell is getting hit from all sides over the poor way he handled to Ray Rice situation. Before the dust could even settle after the Rice elevator tape was released to the public, the league had to deal with Adrian Peterson’s child abuse arrest and indictment, arrests of Jonathan Dwyer and Ray McDonald for domestic abuse and the realization that Greg Hardy was on the active roster for the Carolina Panthers despite already being convicted on a domestic abuse charge.

Eventually, it was going to come to pass that people would start putting two and two together and seeing that there might be some kind of link between the high-rate of domestic violence, abuse and suicides with current and former NFL players and the vicious hits to the head that the athletes take within the game itself. Since 2000, the NFL has seen 83 players arrested for domestic violence incidents. The league has also seen 12 former players commit suicide, usually violently, over the past 25 years. There have also been other incidents involving players where they’ve done damage to themselves and/or others. One notable case was former Pittsburgh Steeler offensive lineman Justin Strzelczyk, who died in a high-speed chase with police in 2004. It was discovered in 2007 that Strzelczyk suffered from CTE.

A few days ago, Bob Costas was on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnelland discussed head injuries and possible links to violent and destructive behavior. Per The Washington Post, Costas said the following:

You have to say that many of those who play an inherently violent and brutal game — not a rough and tough game — but a violent and brutal game, will not [be] able to confine that behavior to the field, especially with what we’re learning about head trauma.” “We already know about the long-range effects. The league itself acknowledges in lawsuits that a considerable percentage of players will have cognitive difficulties well before their peers as a group will, those who did not play football, when they get to middle age.” “But we also know this, that, short-term, impulse control and aggression are affected, especially by head trauma. And when you mix that with perhaps prescription drugs for pain or performance-enhancing drugs, throw alcohol into the mix and throw the violent culture of the NFL into the mix, some players are going to act in ways that they might not act were they not football players.”

 

Prior to the release of the findings related to Belcher, HBO announced that October 21st’s episode of Real Time with Bryant Gumbel will tackle the subject and look at possible links between the two. The show will feature Chelsea Oliver, the widow of Paul Oliver, a former NFL player who killed himself last year. In a preview of the episode, Chelsea discusses Paul’s mood changes prior to his suicide, explaining that he had become abusive and not like his previous self.

 

 

Monday night, after the report was released on Belcher (the report had actually been completed over nine months ago and was released by attorneys representing Belcher’s family), Lawrence O’Donnell used the revelations of Belcher’s death to speak about the potential links between brain trauma and violence.

 

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Besides O’Donnell, there wasn’t much discussion devoted towards the news that Belcher suffered from CTE and the relation it had towards his violent actions and death. Sure, ESPN ran the story, with OTL doing wonderful reporting. However, with the network ramping up for its Monday Night Football broadcast, which just so happened to be in Kansas City, they needed to switch gears and discuss the more important story — the matchup between the Patriots and Chiefs. Which is exactly what the NFL wanted at that moment.

One notable exception was the Kansas City Star, who O’Donnell quoted for his Last Word segment.

“The Belcher finding legitimately rekindles many of the arguments that people inside and outside the NFL are having right now about the violence of the sport and how it affects players. Given the recent attention focused on domestic violence — from Belcher’s case to more recent incidents involving Ray Rice and other current NFL players — the CTE diagnosis for Belcher could become a critical turning point in this discussion. In short, as more is learned about the effects of concussions and other brain injuries suffered by men in the NFL, the more society is going to want to know what the NFL is doing to prevent that kind of damage. We’re seeing increasingly that the damage inflicted by being an NFL player can have tremendously negative effects on the rest of society. Women can be beaten or, as in the case of Belcher’s girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, can be killed.

 

CTE is a degenerative condition found in people who have suffered multiple concussions/repeated brain injury, and can cause severe impairment to motor skills, cognitive function and overall mental state. It has resulted in depression and suicide in some cases. Notable diagnoses of CTE include Hall of Famer Junior Seau, who also committed suicide in 2012, and former WWE World Champion Chris Benoit, who murdered his wife and son before taking his own life.

Nothing can erase the sadness created by the events surrounding the end of Belcher’s life, but the findings do provide some potential answers concerning Belcher’s mind state in his final days and what may have contributed to his decision to take the lives that he did. It also serves as a reminder that, despite the advances in the area of concussion research and treatment, there is still much to be done in the way of improving the culture in professional sports as it relates to head injuries and making things safer for players.

We’ll never know how exactly Belcher’s life would have turned out had he not been so gravely affected by years of repeated brain trauma, but we can learn from his story and make things better going forward. So, will the NFL actually do anything about this? Will they dive in and fully investigate this potential link? Or will they do what they prefer — ignore the problem and hope the paying public doesn’t care about it? Hopefully the NFL and other organizations, in sports and otherwise, can help make that happen.

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Husain Abdullah Flagged in Chiefs-Patriots Game for Sliding and Praying

During Monday night’s beatdown of the New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Husain Abdullah was given a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty for praying in the end zone after a touchdown. Abdullah slid into the end zone after picking off Tom Brady and returning it for the score. At the end of his slide, Abdullah bowed in prayer. As Abdullah would later state, he wanted to make sure to prostrate before God after scoring the touchdown. Abduallh is a devout Muslim who took a year off from the NFL to make a pilgrimage to Mecca.

After his prayer, the officials on the field convened and decided to give Abdullah a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. Apparently, the refs were basing their decision on Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1 (d), which states “Players are prohibited from engaging in any celebrations or demonstrations while on the ground.” Of course, officials haven’t flagged other players in the past for kneeling in the end zone on one knee in prayer after a score. In fact, former quarterback Tim Tebow became a Christian hero for religious displays on the field, to the point that kneeling on one knee became known as ‘Tebowing.’ This double standard wasn’t lost to those on social media. People took to Twitter openly complaining about Abdullah’s flag.

The NFL realized they had a major issue on their hands Tuesday morning and released a statement saying that the rule the officials cited in handing down the penalty has a religious exception and that Abdullah should not have been penalized.

So, all’s cool now, right? Not quite. Sure, the penalty didn’t effect the outcome of the game as Abdullah’s TD put the Chiefs up 41-7 in the fourth quarter. And the NFL did do the right thing by stating that their officials made the wrong call. However, the message sent by the officials was loud and clear on Monday evening. Religious expression is fine as long as it is of the Christian variety.

It is the knee-jerk reaction by the refs throwing a flag that is the real issue at play. With anti-Muslim sentiment at a fever pitch in this country, the NFL (which isn’t exactly dealing with good PR at the moment) sent an awful message Monday evening. During a period of time where we should be making every attempt to be inclusive of all Americans, the statement made by the NFL was essentially, “We don’t want your kind around here.” If a white Christian wants to kneel down and wear bible verses on his face, we will make him a huge superstar and hero to all. If a black Muslim makes a small gesture of faith, we will penalize him in the hopes that he’ll keep it to himself afterwards.

Cardinals RB Jonathan Dwyer Formally Charged With Assault

Per an Associated Press report released Monday evening, Jonathan Dwyer of the Arizona Cardinals was formally charged with assault relating to a series of incidents that occurred between him and his wife this past summer. In an indictment that was released Friday evening, Dwyer was charged with one count of felony assault and eight varying misdemeanors. Per court documents released shortly after Dwyer’s arrest earlier this month, Dwyer broke his wife’s nose with a head-butt on July 21st. The next day, he punched his wife in the face and threw a shoe at his young son, who was only 17-months-old at the time.

Initially after his arrest, Dwyer was charged with two counts of felony assault and four misdemeanors. In this instance, the grand jury returned with one less felony charge but additional misdemeanor charges. The argument that brought on the series of incidents apparently came about due to Dwyer’s wife’s belief that he was cheating on her with another woman.

Dwyer is not being charged with anything related to the shoe being thrown at his son. According to statements obtained by the police, the child was not injured. However, besides being charged with multiple counts of assault, Dwyer has also been charged with disorderly conduct and criminal damage.

Currently, Dwyer is on the reserve/non-football injury list. This means he cannot return to play for the Cardinals at all this season. Typically, players aren’t paid if they are given this designation. However, the Cardinals have agreed to pay Dwyer until there is a resolution in his case. The NFL has also stated that they will keep tabs on the situation as it relates to Dwyer. Dywer’s preliminary court hearing is scheduled for October 9th, shortly after a status conference which will take place on October 6th.

After Four Weeks The NFL’s Future At Quarterback Starting To Emerge

Three rookies start in Week Four

Week Four in the NFL featured three different rookie quarterbacks making the starts for their NFL teams, with two of them making the first starts of their NFL careers.  Blake Bortles of the Jacksonville Jaguars made his first NFL start against the Chargers with mixed results in a loss where his team was outscored by a significant margin in the second half.  Teddy Bridgewater made his first career NFL start in a win against the Falcons, and he threw for over 300 yards to go along with a rushing touchdown.  Derek Carr of the Oakland Raiders, made the third start of his career as the Raiders fell to 0-4 on the season, and while Carr has shown flashes of his talent level, the results have been inconsistent overall.  With these three quarterbacks who are highly thought of, making starts together in the NFL at the same time, the picture of what NFL’s future at the quarterback position is starting to emerge with these 2014 draft picks being given starts at the most important position on the field for their franchises.

Blake Bortles

For Bortles, a strong start to the game had Jacksonville in position to potentially pull the upset in San Diego if they were able to put together a strong second half effort.  Led by Bortles arm strength and accuracy in the first half of the game, Jacksonville had an early 14-10 lead but trailed 17-14 after a late first half breakdown by their defense.  Things did not work out so well for Blake Bortles in the second half though, as he threw two interceptions, and the Jaguars were outscored 16-0 in the final two quarters.  For Bortles it was a great learning experience on a team that has some weapons, but does not have enough talent to make a push for a playoff berth this season.  With Bortles draft status, comes high expectations, but early on this season the Jaguars management team and fans should have the patience to let him learn how to play the quarterback position at the NFL level.  Overall Bortles was able to put his talent on display in his first NFL game by making some great throws to receivers that he has had very little time to work with in practice at this point in the season.  With Bortles early performance, he and the Jaguars may be able to take steps forward this season and win games that they would not have previously won without one of the NFL’s future fixtures at the quarterback position.

Teddy Bridgewater

For Teddy Bridgewater in his first NFL start, playing at home seemed to be the only thing that was going in his favor.  Minnesota went into the game with star running back Adrian Peterson being absent from the active roster for the second straight game because of his suspension for the child abuse charges being brought against him.  Being without a star running back was not the only disadvantage that Bridgewater faced though, as he had to help his team try to outscore the Falcons who had put up 56 points in their week three game against the Buccaneers.  Bridgewater was ready for the challenge though, as he threw 30 passes without having one intercepted.  He was able to complete 19 passes for over 300 yards, and while he did not throw a touchdown pass, he was able to run one in to help the winning effort by a suddenly explosive Vikings offense.  Coming into the season there were some questions about Bridgewater’s arm strength, but with most of his completions being to his weapons on the perimeter, those questions were answered in a positive way early.  While Bridgewater still has plenty to prove, his talent looks worthy of being a first round pick, and he could be on his way to becoming the Vikings franchise quarterback.

Derek Carr

In the four games that Derek Carr has started for the Raiders, he has rarely had the opportunity to show off his fantastic arm strength due to having very little time to throw.  As a second round draft pick, Derek Carr has a chance to be one of the future fixtures in the NFL at the quarterback position despite the limitations that have been on display for him early on in his rookie season.  For Carr, like Bortles he is playing on a team that is off to a winless start to the season, but he can make impact for his team in the wins they gain throughout the rest of the season.  Carr has shown the ability to be efficient from the quarterback position with his 63 percent completion rate to this point in his rookie season.  In future games this season, the Raiders will need to ask more of Carr in order to determine how his development is progressing, and where his limits are at.  With Derek Carr having yet to make many downfield throws, the Raiders still want to see if he can stretch the defense in the NFL.  In the near future, the Raiders will get the opportunity to see Derek Carr prove to them that he can make all the throws on the field in game situations.  So far in limited looks though, David Carr has represented the 2014 quarterback class quite well in the four games he has played.

Conclusion

For the top quarterbacks in the 2014 draft class, there will be some struggles as the young quarterbacks learn how to play the quarterback position at the NFL level.  So far each one of them has shown why the NFL will continue to have a bright future at the quarterback position, as they look to meet the expectations for them with their rebuilding franchises.  The Jaguars, Raiders and Vikings now have a great situation moving forward, as they believe they have their franchise quarterbacks of the future in place, and can focus their rebuilding efforts on putting all the other pieces in place.  For now, each of these talented players will work to meet their own expectations in their rookie seasons as they develop into the type of players that can meet their career goals.

2014 MLB Wild Card Game Predictions

While there were a number of possible scenarios that could have forced a Game 163 this season, none of them played out, and the regular season wrapped up Sunday with the 10 postseason teams and their respective matchups all decided.

Things will kick off with the Kansas City Royals hosting Oakland A’s in the AL Wild Card Game on Tuesday night, followed by the NL Wild Card Game between the San Francisco Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night, with the division series then kicking off Thursday.

Should The Bruins Stay With Simon Gagne?

Simon Gagne hasn’t played an NHL game since April 2013, but he has an honest chance at playing one again in the future. The 34 year old forward was invited to attend the Bruins training camp this summer and has done his best to impress those who would possibly give him another chance on NHL ice.

Injuries Altered Simon Gagne’s Career

Gagne has had an interesting career in the NHL thus far. Drafted 22nd overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in 1998, Gagne spent a majority of his playing years in the orange and white. In his rookie year he scored 20 goals and garnered 28 assists leading him to be named to the NHL All-Rookie Team. Gagne was also named to the NHL All Star Team in both 2001 and 2007 as well as a received a few other awards from the Flyers organization during his tenure in Philadelphia including team MVP for two years in a row (2005-2007 inclusive). While these awards and accolades are all well and good, Gagne also had a major injury in Philadelphia that somewhat changed his career path.

In October 2008, Gagne was on the ice in a Flyers/Flames game and while being checked his jaw smashed into the shoulder of Flames defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. The resulting concussion caused Gagne to miss 4 games and his injuries began to compile. He was injured on November 7th of that year and missed 26 games, only to be reinjured upon his return to the ice. It became a bothersome issue for the former All-Star player and he met with a specialist to figure things out. Dan Gelston, AP Sports Reporter, states that:

Gagne was told by a specialist that he didn’t suffer three concussions, but that the first one in October never properly healed and was aggravated with each additional blow. Gagne originally complained of vision problems and dizziness, but was not first diagnosed with a concussion, one reason why he returned so quickly after the first hit.

 

Gagne returned to the ice and was healthy for a few seasons until he was sidelined once again with a double hernia in 2009. He missed another 24 games after having the hernias surgically repaired. In 2010, he was on the ice again as the Flyers made it to the playoffs and defeated the Bruins in the second round. Gagne himself scored the game winning goal in game 7 of the series.

Gagne was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2010 and spent a season with them before becoming an unrestricted free agent. He signed a contract with the Los Angeles Kings and won a Stanley Cup with the team in 2012. It was during the offseason before the 2013-14 season that the injury bug hit Gagne again as he was diagnosed with a 5cm mass in his neck that was causing him chronic pain and needed to be surgically removed.

Gagne played his last game in the NHL as a member of the team that drafted him after being traded from LA to Philadelphia in the 2012-13 season.

Gagne Joins the Bruins Camp

Patrice Bergeron had a hand in Gagne being invited to the Bruins training camp on a professional try-out agreement. The two met at a charity golf tournament and struck up a conversation. Zack Cox (NESN) reports:

“He kind of asked me where I was in my training and asked what I was looking for,” said Gagne, who sat out last season as he recovered from neck, head and groin injuries. “At first, he thought I was looking more for a contract, but I told him no, I was looking to go for a tryout this year — something I was not willing to do last year.”

 

One thing led to another and soon Gagne was on his way to Boston to participate in camp where he is presumably working hard to gain a spot with the organization. His situation differs from almost everyone on the ice at camp. While he is attending the camp, he is not a part of the Bruins organization where a majority of the other players are either Bruins players or prospects under contract to the organization. Gagne will have a tough time proving he’s worth a roster spot, especially since the money for him may not be there. It is no secret that the Bruins are having severe cap problems and have yet to sign two key players (Torey Krug and Reilly Smith). Should the Bruins want to sign Gagne, they will be adding another part to their cap dilemma.

Is Gagne Worth It?

This is a tough question to answer to be honest. He has accomplished a great many things in his career, but has had many injuries. Another factor going against his hopes to make the team would be his age when the Bruins have younger players that they can invest more time into developing. On the other hand, his age and experience may also be viewed as a benefit to the Bruins decision makers as he would likely be willing to sign for just a year based on that factor as well as his injury history. Giving him a contract is not necessarily the best option out there, but he has clicked with his training camp linemates, Daniel Paille and Ryan Spooner, and this may play a factor into the decision on whether or not to sign him. Zack Cox (NESN) reports:

“I think we’ve started clicking,” he said. “We try to talk between each shift and in practice to try to find ourselves on the ice. (Paille) has been here for a while, so he knows the system that Claude likes to play, so we try to take advantage of that, me and Spooner. I thought we had a pretty good game, even though we lost the game 6-1 and we didn’t score a goal, but I thought that things went pretty good. Hopefully, we’ll have a chance to play a real preseason game together (Tuesday) night.”

 

Bruins head coach, Claude Julien, also appears positive about Simon Gagne’s ability on the ice and his improvement in his play.

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I’m not exactly okay with Gagne being in a Bruins jersey, but I don’t necessarily outright hate the idea. I think it’s something I could warm up to provided that he, Spooner and Paille stay together and mesh well on the ice. I’m going to just say though that he will not be a Boston Bruin next season. I could be wrong, but there appears to be too many variables in play when it comes to the decision. While the argument could be made that he would add another veteran presence to the locker room, there are already other Bruins players that can provide that experience and advice to younger players, most notably captain  Zdeno Chara. Gagne’s age, his injury history and his having not played for a while all work against him, at least in my eyes. Add to it that there are still players to sign and a major cap issue and I just don’t see how this is Simon Gagne’s year to wear the black and gold.

 

2014 NFL Predictions: Week 4

When the Seahawks and the Broncos play in the Super Bowl, the game’s a blowout. But when they play in week three, the game’s a classic. Figure that. While the games this week may lack the magnitude of a certain Super Bowl rematch, we have still got some fine matchups in Chicago, Baltimore, San Francisco and elsewhere.