Seau’s Suicide and Football’s Indoctrination of Violence

Note: Seau’s death is causing many to make opinions about the reasons for his suicide.  I am just one attempting to understand the possibly effects that massive brain trauma, concussions and violence have on retired football players.

Junior Seau

1969 – 2012

Suicide is a paradox.  It is, in my opinion, the penultimate act of an insidious mental disease but also can be seen as the ultimate act of cowardice.  On May 2, 2012, Junior Seau texted his children “I love you,” pointed a gun at his chest and pulled the trigger.  We will never know what mental and physical struggles Seau was wrestling with.  We can only speculate as to the cause of a despair so deep as it would force him to abandon his three children, family and friends by taking his own life.  But what comes from his death will resonate for decades not just in the NFL but at all levels of football, regardless of whether football’s brutal toll was responsible for Junior’s death or not.  Arguments about players assuming the risk are relevant and I am cognizant of the legal ramifications of such an argument.  This isn’t about the NFL’s defense toward a lawsuit, it’s about what is causing these former athletes to take their lives.

As Americans, football is our passion.  On Sundays in autumn, we are, as a people generally, involved with two events: Church and the NFL.  On Saturdays, we watch a few future NFL players on the college gridiron and on Friday nights, parents and families in neighborhoods across the country watch their sons play high school football.  At the youngest ages, children watch intently as eleven abnormally large men hurl themselves, often head-first, into eleven men moving at unbelievable speeds on the other side of the line.  Some of these young kids will begin playing Pop Warner football as early as age five.  Many of them will be enthralled with the running, passing and hitting, perhaps satisfying that male proclivity toward competition, fighting and destruction.  As with any industry or skill, the phenoms and prodigies will be identified early and groomed for a future in football.  Little do these children know that the skills they develop will be potentially dangerous, even deadly.

These young boys, short of adolescence by years, are indoctrinated into a scene of violence.  Football is pain, blood and filled with the prospects of great rewards with victory.  It is also a testosterone-filled event, times a billion.  Glory goes to those who survive and thrive.  These boys, who grow up to be monstrously-sized men, are used as weapons.  As a player rises through the ranks and hones his craft, he becomes a human being of amazingly destructive power.  If a young man is fortunate to become a professional football player, he has the capability of destroying the life and career of any man on that field.  His skill set is that dangerous.

Football is akin to war.  Football’s lexicon is replete with attack schemes, blitzes and battle lines.  The parallels are staggering though many will cringe at me using the analogy.  War is naturally the most dangerous circumstance in humanity’s arsenal of national self-preservation (and quite frankly, stupidity).  Football, being a game modeled after war, it isn’t hard to imagine the human cost.  War and football are “games” of attrition.  Casualties often determine the winner.  For centuries, we weren’t aware of the silent costs after peace was struck.  Now we know all too well.

With technology, we are now just learning about the silent killers.  As our brave soldiers in the Middle East are dying and suffering at the hands of massive brain trauma and PTSD, our football brethren are similarly being traumatized by multiple concussions and head wounds, leading to dementia, depression and death.  Be mindful also that legally-accepted acts of violence perpetrated by these men cannot be overlooked as a cause for their depression.  Nor can we ignore their transition from a life of violent aggression to one of regular citizen.  Football players, like our soldiers, are suffering from a form of PTSD.

For decades, nothing was known regarding brain trauma.  In fact, the evolution of football follows our knowledge that protecting the brain was incredibly importance.  Helmets, once non-existent in the game, evolve each season, helping to prevent concussive events.  Mouthpieces have changed.  Padding is different too.  The NFL has instituted massive penalties for head shots and its current punishments for the Bountygate scandal are blatantly obvious from a safety perspective.  Nothing can prevent all brain injuries.  Football introduces additional safeguards every season in exchange for a more acceptable level of violence but it will never be sufficient.  We will never eradicate concussions and brain trauma from the game.

As I said, football is the athletic, sports version of war.  These men leave our service at a young age and a vast majority of them are bankrupt financially and wounded emotionally.  They have no outlets to free themselves of the shackles of mental pain and anguish because they believe the machismo attitudes expressed in NFL locker rooms still apply.  These injuries are becoming an epidemic among NFL retirees and will shape the future of the sport, from the NFL all the way to Pop Warner.

Junior Seau is just the latest in a series of deaths and suicides of former NFL players.  He just happens to be the most well-known.  He is a future Hall of Famer and arguably one of the greatest linebackers of all-time.  His death will beg all sorts of questions, many of which I have outlined.  He may not have died as a result of football but the fact is, the lack of evidence makes the case against football all the more damning.  Assumptions will be made against the NFL.  The league may survive the court rooms but could be decimated by public opinion.

The National Football League must act now.  It must invest heavily in new helmet technologies, mouth guards and neck braces.  Concussive events must be dramatically decreased.  An 18-game season should be shelved indefinitely and not spoken of for years.  They must take pro-active steps to see that all its athletes, from superstars to journeymen players to undrafted washouts, effectively transition to regular civilian life after their careers are over.

The NFL unfairly bears the burden of being the last career stop for a football player.  Unfortunately for the League, they inherit the previous wear and tear these men have before they put on a NFL uniform.  But all these men aspired to be professional football players most of their lives and the NFL has a responsibility to them and the massive fanatic appeal this game has to an adoring nation to protect them as best they can.

If the National Football League, the NCAA and other football organizations are unable to protect football athletes and there is a steady rise in dementia, PTSD, depression and death, football will cease to be relevant.  Parents will find other outlets for their children’s athletic prowess that will not subject them to a future of mental disease, physical debilitation, emotional distress and untimely death.  Parents will slowly acknowledge that football isn’t worth the risk of fame and fortune for their boys and ask them to seek a glory without a helmet, pads and a pigskin.  Football could be reduced to a shell of its former violent self, unappealing and unpopular.  Perhaps there is no happy medium and football is either deadly or boring.  In that case, we Americans must decide what it is we want for our sons and for ourselves.

What Year Did He Win His Ring?

With the absurdity that is Tim Tebow to the Jets insanity, I just thought it would be interesting to see how long it took for each Super Bowl winning QB to win his first Lombardi Trophy.  So before the Jets decide to bail on Mark Sanchez, perhaps they should consider that two AFC Championship appearances in three years is excellent work for a player entering his fourth season.  I went back twenty Super Bowls to see how long it took each Super Bowl winning quarterback to win his first ring.

Five QBs in the past twenty years have multiple rings: Troy Aikman and Tom Brady, three; Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and John Elway, two.  Among those five players, the average time it took them to win a Super Bowl as a starter is 5 seasons.  Without Elway’s 15 starting years included, the average among the four remaining drops to 2.5 years (John Elway’s first SB appearance was in his fourth season and also fourth starting). Do you or I think Sanchez is any of the aforementioned yet or ever will be? Including all the players listed below, the rough average of starting season prior to a championship season was 5.07 years.

In other words, Sanchez wouldn’t even be due to hoist the Lombardi Trophy until the end of the 2013 season. Ironically, if this were to actually happen with the Jets, Mark Sanchez would be lifting the trophy at Metlife Stadium after Super Bowl XLVIII. Forgetting that dream scenario, what today’s “what have you done for me lately” NFL mentality shows is that patience is a vice. Winning now or soon is far more preferable. Nevermind the talent and team unity you need to do so. The Jets will have none of that.

But take some guys on this list, including Giants QB Eli Manning. Eli was selected with the first pick in the 2004 draft. If anyone remembers, many Giants fans were calling for Manning’s removal because of his rocky starts. Hell, Eli had some crappy games this season! But finally, in season four, he won his ring. This, a year after his brother, the legend that is Peyton, took home his first ring after waiting nine years! I am not comparing Mark Sanchez to either Manning, or anyone else who’s won a Super Bowl. The case I’m making is that Sanchez’s inconsistencies are in-line with other quarterbacks who’ve won in the past.

The ultimate question that must be asked is whether you think, with the right pieces and the right system, Mark Sanchez can be on this list? I believe he can. It’s blatantly obvious from their actions this week that Mike Tannenbaum, Rex Ryan and Woody Johnson are agnostic to the idea that Sanchez will ever win a championship anywhere. Funny, because that’s what I think of their chances in their current roles as GM, head coach and owner, too.

Super Bowl winning QBs, how long it took them and what starting year it was when they won their first championship: (bold italicsmultiple winner)

  • XLV: Aaron Rodgers (6th season, 3rd as starter)
  • XLIV: Drew Brees (9th season, 8th as starter)
  • XLII: Eli Manning (4th season, 3rd as starter)
  • XLI: Peyton Manning (9th season, 9th as starter)
  • XL: Ben Roethlisberger (2nd season, 2nd as starter)
  • XXXVII: Brad Johnson (9th season, 6th as starter*)
  • XXXVI: Tom Brady (2nd season, 1st as starter)
  • XXXV: Trent Dilfer (7th season, 6th as starter)
  • XXXIV: Kurt Warner (2nd NFL season, 1st as starter)
  • XXXII: John Elway (15th season, 15th as starter)
  • XXXI: Brett Favre (6th season, 5th as starter)
  • XXIX: Steve Young (10th NFL season, 5th as starter*)
  • XXVII: Troy Aikman (4th season, 4th as starter)
  • XXVI: Mark Rypien (4th season, 3rd as starter*)

Screwing Sanchez: The Ultimate Story of the Jets Inferiority Complex

Two consecutive AFC title games are never enough for the reactionary Jets front office. Sanchez’s stats in his first three seasons are virtually identical to Giants QB Eli Manning but that means nothing. Lest I remind everyone of how many rings Eli Manning now possesses. A terrible O-Line that almost got Sanchez killed last season is not a concern. A play-action-oriented QB with no run game to speak of is not an issue. A trouble-making receiver had nothing to do with it. What does everyone say? Sanchez will never win and must go. Patience is a word Jets fans abhor and quite frankly, don’t understand.

Jets fans are uncomfortable, miserable people. They believe the football gods have conspired against them in favor of anyone else. Joe Willie Namath was from an alternate universe. They have no grasp of football reality. Jets LB Mo Lewis knocks out Drew Bledsoe and ushers in the Tom Brady era. “Cursed Jets we are,” the fans say. 3-13, it can’t get any worse. Ha! Oh yes it can. Thanks Kotite.

The run-of-the-mill Jets fan immediately bought into Rex Ryan’s “Super Bowl or bust” mentality. Of course they would. Look at them all. I’m guilty too. Desperation makes fools of people, especially Jets fans. The Jets were one of the last four standing two years in a row, thanks partly to Mark’s great post-season play, on the road, when he was a rookie! But naturally, there was no Super Bowl. Jets fans began to panic once again. Then the Jets fell apart last season, Rex’s bombastic attitude allowed his players to rebel, they missed the playoffs while our crosstown rivals both knocked the Jets out and then defeated Tom Brady’s Patriots in the Super Bowl, again. It was all Sanchez. Look at the facts and you will see that is not true. But Jets fans are blinded by the truth. Jets fans say, “Next!”

You know what would make Mark Sanchez a better leader and football player? Practice, patience and weapons. Two sets of offenses will make Sanchez worse, not better. It will also make the team worse. Schotty was an anchor to Sanchez’s success and so too will Tebow’s “Wildcat packages.” These gimmicky offenses never last long. Who wins Super Bowls? Legendary defenses and prolific offenses. The Wildcat as our saving grace is a joke and bringing in this Tebow media circus is equally hilarious.

I have been a Jets fan my entire life but I am prepared to dump these guys if Tebow starts. This front office has no real aspirations to win with Mark Sanchez, the better quarterback. They are willing to forgo winning in exchange for a publicity hog whom everyone has bought into as some saintly figure. Denver gave you a choice. Why’d you pick my beloved New York over your hometown, Tim? Jacksonville is sight unseen. NYC is bright lights, big city.

Look, I don’t know if Tim Tebow is truly a good person. Same goes for Mark Sanchez. Take emotion out of it. Who’s the better QB that could lead your team to the Super Bowl with the right constituent parts around him? Tebow fans are blinded by some ridiculous notion that God is divinely making him win. If that’s the case, Eli Manning is the Jesus of New York. Mark Sanchez has the tools to lead a pro-style offense to the big game. In his first two seasons, we were sixty minutes away because of him. The odds Tebow can do the same are farcical. His arm in a pass-oriented league is an indictment of his skill set. Tim Tebow has the ability to play in the NFL but not as a starting quarterback. I do not accept the premise that Tebow’s last season proves he is a viable starter. I also reject that same fact about Sanchez. Who’s better?! Mark Sanchez. And Mark will start… for a while.

Go ahead Rex, play Tebow. Start him. Let Tebow play against the Niners, Texans and Steelers. Try this hybrid, two-QB garbage against the Bills’ Mario Williams with our current offensive line. Was the Patriots mediocre defense’s domination of Tebow not enough proof? This is desperation to the highest degree. Every team you face will smell the blood and sense the fear.

Driven by the greatest inferiority complex in football, the Jets act as if the fates have already declared them irrelevant. In response, the Jets create a media circus with all the trimmings. Gang Green has become relevant again! Yes, relevant in the minds of delusional Jets fans and Tebow lovers. People with blind faith are irrational people. Tebow followers have an unbreakable allegiance to him. No matter his flaws, it will never be Tim Tebow’s fault. But a lucky gust of wind that inexplicably blows a field goal through the uprights is all Timmy.

My disgust for the Jets exists on so many levels today. From a business standpoint to how I believe this will impact the chalkboard X’s and O’s, Jets fans should be universally calling for front office heads to roll. But they aren’t because some actually believe this will work. If it does, I will apologize for this rant. But it won’t. I don’t see the evidence. Show me the facts that indicate we will be closer to winning a Super Bowl with Tim Tebow taking reps away from our starter. How does a gimmick offense win a Lombardi Trophy?! It doesn’t. How does a gimmick-oriented player like Tim Tebow win Super Bowls? He never will.

Randy Moss Will Be Back

Does anyone truly believe Randy has said goodbye to football?  I think not.  Randy Moss is dramatic and arrogant.  I have no doubt this is a stunt because Randy can’t find a suitable partner.  Once the calendar turns from August to September, there will be gaping holes in more than a few teams receiver positions.  They’ll be a taker somewhere and Moss will be up to his old antics within days.  His new team will regret their purchase and wonder if they can trade the troublemaker for draft picks.  Oh wait, the Patriots pulled off that maneuver last season while Titans looked like morons holding the bag.  Make no mistake: Randy Moss will be catching footballs… or riding the pine in September.

I Missed Everyone… I’m Back and so is Football!

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell uttered the words we’ve all been waiting to hear.

“Football is back and that’s great news for everybody.”

That is great news.  There are 32 reasons we watch football each autumn Sunday.  All 32 teams have distinct storylines, their own prima donnas and certainly enough entertaining aspects that we could have HBO Hard Knocks for eternity.  The National Football League rules our nation, not the president or Congress.  Hell, Pats owner Bob Kraft actually ripped our politicians for not getting a debt ceiling deal completed.  And if calamity strikes our economy because our whiny, narcissist leaders can’t get a deal finished by next Tuesday, be thankful that your NFL team is in training camp, you’ve already paid for DirecTV Sunday Ticket and that our whiny, narcissistic athletes are far more entertaining.

The free agent frenzy we are witnessing is unprecedented.  As a Jets fan, the prospect of signing Holmes and Asomugha is countered by the realization that this abbreviated signing period could scuttle any hopes for Gang Green to sign anyone to a big deal.  Fortunately, everyone wants to play for Rex.  But I digress.

I hope everyone enjoys being yanked toward the abyss, then pulled into the competitive light, only to be pulled back and forth in the span of two weeks.  Free agency this short will be impossible to follow in its entirety but I will try and keep up as will the whole country.  Just the other night, my wife told me she didn’t feel like watching sports on TV despite the absence of anything on the tube.  I flipped to NFL Network and pigskin talk was on.  Football is in our blood and it’s back!

Past Their Prime – Episode 7

Talk about a late start this week. Between Passover and the Celtics kicking ass, we haven’t had a chance to record and post this thing until now. Well, it was recorded on Wednesday, but you get the idea.

Here’s what you have in store for your listening pleasure – Lee and Jesse break down the NBA Playoffs, discuss the most American football matchup ever and Lee makes a prediction about Jesus . . . Shuttlesworth. Plus Jesse sends his condolences to Cameraman Kevin.

Be a part of the show! Submit your questions to PastTheirPrime@gmail.com and you could be a winner too.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter at @_PastTheirPrime.

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Past Their Prime – Episode 5

We managed to make it through five episodes. Cause for celebration.

This week, Lee and Jesse talk about the most unrealistic finish to a Butler season since Benson became governor. Look it up.

Also, we give our MLB predictions, try to talk Red Sox fans off the ledge and debate which is easier – getting 76ers playoff tickets or hating Spike Lee.

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Want to win a $25 gift certificate? Send your sports-related question to us at PastTheirPrime@gmail.com and following us on Twitter @_PastTheirPrime.The prizes are in the mail – we promise.

Time Zone Sports Wars: 75% of America Gets The Shaft

Sorry West Coast but I’m about to launch into an arrogant East Coast tirade.  Monday night, college basketball’s National Championship game tipped off at 8:23pm local time in Houston.  That’s 9:23pm ET and 6:23pm PT.  Naturally, everyone living in Eastern Daylight Time was generally annoyed by this.  The game ended about 10 minutes before midnight Eastern time while those along the Pacific had a few hours before bed.  Forget the partying students of Storrs, Connecticut, where no one slept.  It was the millions of college basketball fans, and sports fans in general, on the east side of the United States for whom I’m concerned.

Yesterday I tweeted that it was completely unacceptable for anyone watching this Tournament’s penultimate game to be tortured with crappy basketball, especially after 11:30pm.  It is an utter travesty that certain sporting events begin after certain times on the East Coast.  And not to pile on those in the Rockies and west but that half of America isn’t exactly a college basketball mecca.  It most certainly doesn’t have a significant fan base compared to those of us nearer the Atlantic.  I know for sure what the west side doesn’t have and that’s a population that warrants such a favorable start time.  Mix that all together, sports leagues and media outlets are pandering to the West.  Why?  California?

According to the 2010 Census (as of April 1, 2010), the U.S. population (50 states + DC) was 308,748,481.  How many of us live in the Eastern Time Zone?  Over 147 million!  That’s 47.7% of the entire population.  And if you include the Central Time Zone, the eastern half of the U.S. accounts for 76.7% of all Americans.  So someone will have to explain to me why we here on the eastern side have to stay up ridiculous hours for championship events on a weekday while the west side, which has less than three times the population, gets to watch it well before bed?  This is a grave injustice.

For starters, where is the hotbed of college basketball activity?  Perennially, it’s along the East Coast.  Where do your national champions come from?  Since the Tournament expanded to 64 in 1985, 21 of the 27 champions were from the Eastern Time Zone.  Another three came from the Central.  Sarcastically, the powerful Pacific Time Zone gave us two, UNLV in 1990 and UCLA in 1995 (it’s three if you count Arizona in ’97 because they are essentially in PDT during the summer).

OK, West Coast, have at it.  ‘What about John Wooden’s ten titles?  We love college basketball too.’  Sure you do?  As much as the Big East has good football teams.  This is mostly a media argument.  Where are the most eyeballs?  College basketball still has clout, in large part because of and thanks to, people in the East.  Also, it’s largely where, if the NBA institutes a two or three-year eligibility rule, the best NCAA talent will be drawn from.  The Wooden argument, stemming from titles won over 40 years ago, doesn’t make a compelling case.

Millions of us on the East Coast would love football to begin at 10am like in California.  I’d like the NFL to move early games to noon from 1pm, giving us just one extra hour for dinner before the night game.  You have the advantage there.  But then there’s the Super Bowl, where it’s the only thing happening that Sunday.  For you, a nice 3:30pm start.  For us, 6:30pm and the game ends about 10pm.  Totally unjustified, using the same argument as I did with college basketball.  The World Series, it’s the same thing.  I understand if the game is out on the West Coast.  But often times, when not one but two East Coast clubs are playing in the Fall Classic, we must suffer with an 8:30pm first pitch.  The game, especially if it’s the Yankees or Red Sox, drags into the next day.

It’s time the media and our beloved leagues find common ground between the east and west.  These events are starting way too late, especially for kids in the eastern part of the U.S.  In a country where chronic sleeplessness is pervasive, these late starts are indicative of a larger problem.  Midnight finishes are complete lunacy in this age.  Most advertisers aren’t even getting the bang for their buck because millions switch off, optioning to find the end-of-game highlights on SportsCenter.  It’s a lose-lose for all, except the lesser-populated West Coast.  The most populated area in the country, the I-95 corridor, has spoken.  We want our sports earlier.

Lastly, in the meantime, it’s the job of two college teams not to torture us with horrible basketball while we’re staying up.

Eight Extra Days: NFL Negotiations Continue

There is only one reason the NFL agreed to two separate extensions: Judge David Doty.  He was initially perceived to be player-friendly prior to the lastest legal battle and his decision to void billions in television contracts has scared the owners back to the table.  Momentum is clearly on the players side.  Another week may shake up the talks.  Be mindful, according to reports, that the sides are still roughly $800 million apart.  Cautious optimism is a word lawyers don’t understand.

Perhaps the television contracts were indeed a “war chest” in the event of a lockout.  If that is the case, Doty’s deision has made the NFL very apprehensive.  Maybe the NFL realizes that a drawn out appeals process will yield little results and they should focus on negotiating for the time being.  There is absolutely no urgency at this stage.  Talks could break down, the union decertifies and the owners lock out the players.  The season isn’t scheduled to begin for six whole months.

CBA extensions aside, if the NFL’s appeal is unsuccessful, their position will diminish further.  The owners have made the decision that talking won’t hurt in the face of their legal problems.  The National Football League, for the moment, is still alive.  Let cooler heads prevail… Please.

Pump the Brakes NFL Fans: The Law Moves Slooooow

I’m going to put my attorney hat on for a moment.  One of the first things you learn in law school, after finding out that at one point you will cry when a professor verbally abuses you in front of 150 people and that your vocation has the highest incidence of substance abuse, is that you sue… everyone… for everything!  No time for rationally discovering who is responsible.  That’s for legal process to hammer out.  That is exactly how the NFLPA will play it.  Sue the NFL on any ground and maneuver the negotiations toward a less crummy CBA for the players.

The recent decision has NFL fans all excited that this will give the owners less negotiating space, thus causing the parties to come to an agreement sooner.  No way.  When the appeal comes and I expect it will, the fight will continue.  And what happens say, when the appeals court reverses Judge Doty’s decision?  Or better yet, when the appeal is affirmed in part and reversed in part.  Believe me, this is just the tip of the legal iceberg.  Court fights are like chess.  If you aren’t thinking ten moves ahead, then it’s checkmate – for you.

Another certainty when it comes to being a lawyer is that “time is your friend.”  For the NFL owners, they couldn’t agree more.  The longer the players are locked out, the stronger their hand becomes.  In the context of this labor dispute, the NFLPA must do extremely well in court to prevail against the owners.  Courts, however, move notoriously slow.  The National Football League was prepared for this and will drag this out if the players do not begin conceding on enough issues.  One negotiating concession or a single court order can turn the whole process on its head in a second.

The MLB strike ended with a judicial decision, perhaps this NFL impasse will as well.  Actually, seeing as the MLB players were able to get a favorable situation out of Sotomayor’s decision in 1995, I know that’s the model the NFLPA will use and tweak to avoid a prolonged (as in a year) negotiation.  Granted, baseball’s 1994 issues are vastly different from the NFL’s 2011 situation, the one common factor that binds them is that if the money is divvied up right, the lockout will end, a new CBA will be agreed to and we can cry (or enjoy) as the Jets lose their third straight AFC title game.

Now, we wait.  If the parties temporarily extend the current CBA, that is a positive sign but no guarantee that an accord is imminent.  I fully anticipate a lockout will occur at 11:59pm Thursday night.  Doty’s decision actually made a lockout more likely, not less.  The League is adamant about its stance regarding the TV money.  Securing the network’s cash is essential for the NFL to keep the high ground in the labor battle.  If that money is lost completely, the impetus for a drawn out negotiation vanishes.

If you’re an attorney, a NFL fan and love a good legal bloodbath, then enjoy the coming carnage.  Putting on a helmet and pads in football is a great parallel to a huge court battle.  But Lord, if we lose a season for it, we will miss the gridiron and curse the bloody lawyers.

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