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After ten seasons, is time on Commissioner Goodell’s side? Then again, is it on anybody’s, wonders Richard L Gale


W


hile former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle held the position


for 29 years, and Paul Tagliabue 17 years, pre-Super Bowl NFL supremos enjoyed shorter tenures. It isn’t a stretch to say that, as he completes his tenth season as president of pro football, Roger Goodell is enduring some mid-term difficulties. Criticized for his handling of the suspension of Ray Rice a year ago (two games for domestic violence, increased to an indefinite suspen- sion only after the world saw video evidence, then overturned by a judge), disciplinarian Goodell then came down harder (four games) on Tom Brady’s questionable involve- ment in New England’s ‘Deflategate’ ball-tampering saga... which was


also overturned before a judge. Rather than being suspended, Brady’s Patriots started the season 10-0. Whereas Bountygate may have been the beginning of the slide for the New Orleans Saints, Spygate and Deflategate haven’t diminished the Patriots. Teflon Tom Brady is scowling his way towards the league MVP, as popular and untouchable as Jonathan E. in Rollerball. And then there’s Concussions – an issue that for all of the new direc- tives on tackling, is not going away. Goodell doesn’t want the image of footballers to be brain-damaged veterans, he wants it to be cerebral quarterbacks. It doesn’t help that with Peyton Manning suddenly look- ing 39 and Stanford grad Andrew Luck refusing to fulfil the narrative as league poster boy in waiting (through injury and poor play), the guy who’s surviving and thriving is Tom Brady. In fact, at press time, the unsuspendable Brady leads the league in pass yards while Vikings runner Adrian Peterson leads the league in rushing – Peterson also had a league suspension overturned on appeal this past year. Goodell’s win-loss is looking Browns-like.


The NFL is a lot more care- ful in the way players are checked out following hits. © GARY BAKER


Time for Harsh Realities But back to those concussions. Early this season, the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank reported data that made, at best, bleak reading for football. The stark headlines: 95 percent of deceased NFL players tested showed positive for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degen- erative disease associated with repetitive brain trauma and which can cause depression, dementia, and a decrease in motor skills. It was detected in the brains of Junior Seau (suicide), Dave Duerson (suicide), Justin Strzelczyk (police chase/car crash) and others. It can’t all be laid at the door


of Commissioner Goodell – these numbers include occurrence of CTE in players whose careers date back decades, and the NFL now promotes a heads-up style of tackling, and has legislated heavily against blows to the head. However, current Will Smith film Concussion portrays pathologist Bennet Omalu’s fight to make the NFL accept his conclusions on CTE. I don’t know if it gives Good- ell sleepless nights (Luke Wilson portrays him in the film), but GQ’s 2009 article upon which the film is based didn’t make easy reading for any football fan. So is somebody going to ban


contact sports on Goodell’s watch? Unlikely. If they can’t ban firearms, there’s not much chance of banning football. Boxing, MMA, wrestling, hockey are doing fine. They’ll ban football just after they ban smoking. But the NFL will continue to feel


the pressure to prove that its game, if not safe (it could never be safe) is getting safer. It is good that the NFL has spotters in place to watch for concussions. However, the Case Kee- num concussion shows how variable this provision can be.


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