It is the sixth week of the 2014 NFL season and with the Cardinals and the Bengals falling this past week, and rather convincingly I might add, this is the earliest that there are no remaining undefeated clubs since the NFL merger in 1970. What could that mean? How about that parity is great?
With the NFL dealing with the ongoing issue of domestic violence committed by its players and personnel, and the fallout from its own lack of action, one of its most visible superstars has taken the initiative to do something about it. Earlier this week, Wilson announced the launch of a new organization, the Why Not You Foundation, which will help support victims of domestic violence.
With the foundation, Wilson is hoping to start an initiative known as Pass The Peace, which will help raise money for The National Domestic Violence Hotline. By tagging people on social media and utilizing the hashtag #WNYPassThePeace, Wilson is asking that those who ‘Pass the Peace’ donate at least $2 to the hotline. The foundation has made it simple by setting up a text line where you just need to text WNYPASSTHEPEACE and the contribution will be added to your phone bill.
Wilson’s announcement coincided with his being named the Senior Editor of The Players Tribune, a new website started by retired Yankees great Derek Jeter. The Players Tribune is advertised as a website that will allow athletes to give their own personal insights via videos and first-person stories, rather than through the mouths of sportswriters, agent and PR personnel. It was launched a few days ago. Wilson’s first contribution was a personal essay discussing the foundation.
He started the piece by revealing that he was a bully when he was younger and used to beat up other kids.
used to beat people up. Truthfully, I used to beat people up a lot. Many of you readers probably think I have been Mr. Goody Two-Shoes my whole life, but honestly, I was a bully growing up. In elementary and middle school, I threw kids against the wall. I rubbed their heads in the dirt at recess. I bit them. I even knocked teeth out.
I had a lot of anger that I didn’t know what to do with. Thankfully, I was saved by my faith when I was 14 years old, and was able to start living for others instead of just myself. But if you’ve ever been at the bottom of a pile with me, you know that I still have a bit of that bully deep down inside—just ask DeMarcus Ware—and I work hard to keep it there.
Wilson discussed that football is a violent game, but the violence need to be limited to the field of play and not taken out on others when the game’s over. He also pointed out that domestic violence is not limited to the NFL and that it is a national problem. However, limited resources for shelters mean that as many as 10,000 people are turned away every day in this country when seeking help and assistance.
The Super Bowl winning QB stated that he had tended to stay away from controversial issues in his career. However, he feels strongly about this particular topic and wants to do something, however small, to help.
Maybe in our cynical world, this seems too ambitious, or even naive. Maybe this issue is too taboo, too toxic. I’ve tended to avoid controversial topics throughout my career, but in my first piece for The Players’ Tribune, I wanted to be open and address something that’s important, timely and relevant. I’ve been silent on the issue for too long, falling back on the “I can’t speak to someone else’s personal life” excuse. But victims need physical, emotional and financial support and care, and the resources to get away from their abusers. Abusers, you need to get help—you can change.
How many of you reading right now knew that October is Domestic Violence Awareness month? I certainly didn’t. I had to Google it. And that’s part of why I felt so inspired to do my part. This initiative, this story, is about acknowledging something difficult, something we’d rather not see. When I look back at beating kids up on the playground, I don’t like that image. But I moved past that place in my life, and I’m proud of the man I am now.
As Wilson said, it is easy as a cynic to see this attempt as naive. However, movements have to start somewhere. As we’ve seen with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, social media can really get a cause moving and raise both money and awareness. Hopefully, Wilson’s initiative takes off.
It’s the fifth week of the NFL season and it is also October. If this isn’t football time, what could it be (okay, postseason baseball). We saw a number of surprising results in Week 4 (Tampa Bay upsetting Pittsburgh? Minnesota drilling Atlanta? Dallas routing New Orleans?), could we see more of that this week or more rational action? Here are my Week 5 picks.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.