Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Blurred Lines: The NFL Settlement - Who Won? Why Now?

If you love the NFL, you've definitely heard the “cha-ching” ringing through cyber space with news of the $765 million settlement between the league and the 4,500 retired players and their families who were suing the league.
These retired players, most suffering from serious neurological conditions, filed the lawsuit claiming – and their physicians agree – that these conditions were a result of repeated head injuries suffered in their playing days. The legal action implied that the NFL had not taken sufficient action to protect the players and even covered up medical data about just how serious the long-term impact of concussions and head injuries could be.
For those of you who love the numbers, here you can see the financial details of the agreement and the way it all breaks out.
Most of the online palaver about the settlement has to do with “Who won? The league, or the players?”
One could definitely say the NFL is the winner. Under the terms of the settlement, it is stated very clearly that the league is not admitting guilt of any wrongdoing around concussions and brain injuries. Expert projections estimated that a trial could result in billions being paid out to players and their families compared to this “measly” $765 million. And a trial would have tied up headlines and caused serious PR problems for the league, likely for years.
According to Christine Brennan, USA Today Sports, “The settlement likely means the NFL won’t have to disclose internal files about what it knew and when it knew it regarding concussion-linked brain problems. That’s too bad because that’s an important piece of sports medicine history.”
On the flip side, is it better to have the matter settled now for the players and their families? “These are the ex-players who have medical bills to pay right now. These are the wives and children who are trying to live with and help a man they barely recognize anymore,” writes Brennan. “This settlement is not nothing to them. It’s something. It’s tangible. And they believe it will help them right away.”
Even the lead plaintiffs’ attorney, Christopher Seeger, had a positive response to the settlement. “This is an extraordinary agreement that will provide immediate care and support to retired players and their families. It will do so faster and at far less cost, both financially and emotionally, than could have ever been accomplished by continuing to litigate.”
The one question I kept asking as a die-hard NFL fan: Why now?
Was it because the players and their loved ones were getting impatient as they watched medical bills piling up and days passing by with no resolution? Were players just weary of the fight and ready to move on? Or, did the NFL push to get this issue resolved before the start of the regular season, to eliminate the possibility of “distractions” during the 2013 season?
As a fan, I am clearly distracted. Instead of breaking down the pre-season performance of rookies and putting together my fantasy league, I am – once again – feeling guilty for loving the game like I do.
The quote that struck me most about this settlement came not from a lawyer, or a player, but from Garrett Webster, the son of former Steelers center, Mike Webster, who died in 2002 from brain disease.
“I hope this settlement is the NFL saying, ‘We’re taking concussions seriously. We’re going to keep working on it.’ The worst-case scenario for me is the NFL saying, ‘We paid you money. Now go away.’ … “It felt like for the longest time we were making stuff up, that we were after money. I would give $200 million for my dad to be back here and be alive. There’s no price on the hell you go through with this.”
Mr. Webster, I hope so, too, and I hope that the research and education fund of $10 million created as part of this settlement, alongside the new rules and protocol instituted by the NFL over the last four years, will protect players from these kinds of tragedies.
But, players will have to be willing to “play along” with this new protocol and look out for their own well-being, as well. That’s something that the NFL can’t control.
In the April 2013 issue of ESPN Magazine, 48 players were surveyed about injuries and concussions. Of the guys polled, 54% say that if they suffer brain damage as a result of playing in the NFL, it’s still worth it.

Then they were asked: If you could win Super Bowl MVP, but it takes 5 years off your life, would that be worth it? Almost half, 48%, respond “yes”. One NFL veteran lineman says, “Hell yeah! And at the rate I’m going, I’m probably going to be in a wheelchair for the last 10 years of my life anyway.”

Images courtesy of ABC News & Toledo Blade
First published via HelloGiggles

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Amanda Bynes, Meet Your Meltdown Match: Titus Young

I heard about Amanda Bynes recent “issues” not through TMZ or Twitter, but via pro-football channels. Makes sense, right?
The tongue-in-cheek NFL news site, ProFootballMock.com, broke the “news” that Bynes had signed with the notoriously dysfunctional NFL team, the Detroit Lions.
As I caught up on the Bynes shame spiral, I started thinking about the equivalent bologna that goes on in the NFL and other professional sports, too. The current terror Bynes is on made me think of former Lions wide receiver, Titus Young. How similar is a self-destructing young Hollywood star and a self-destructing young star athlete?
Amanda Bynes
   Bynes is currently facing charges in New York for reckless endangerment, tampering with evidence, and possession of marijuana from a May 23rd incident at her Manhattan apartment. She faced a laundry list of charges in 2012: multiple DUIs, 2 counts of “driving with a suspended license” 2 hit and run charges , and just recently, she was kicked out of her gym for smoking pot in the women’s locker room at 4:20 pm (how original).

Titus Young
   You might have heard about it when this former Detroit Lion was arrested not once, not twice but three times in one week, with two of those arrests happening within 24 hours of each other. First he gets a DUI, gets arrested and his car is impounded. Fourteen hours later, he’s arrested again for trying to break into the police impound lot to get his car. Later in the week: burglary and assault.

Here you have two young, uniquely talented people who appear determined to self-destruct and ruin the chance of them capitalizing on the skills and success they have built so far.
It may seem that the high-profile careers chosen by Bynes and Young exist in an enabling breeding ground for all sorts of dysfunction. And, in many ways, that’s probably true: the money, the fame, the attention and adoration of fans. But, there is a difference that, I believe, makes a difference.
If you look at Bynes, her career in showbiz is hanging by a thread – pending a Mickey Rourke style comeback. However, TMZ, People Magazine, US Weekly and Perez Hilton are making a pretty nice living off of her name right now. It’s just like the way the British tabloids cover the Royal Family to keep the presses rolling. But, the studios and executives Bynes has worked with are in no real danger of tanking due to her collapse.
A great example: Lindsay Lohan’s  biggest box office success before her collapse was Freaky Friday, released by Disney, but no one now labels Disney as a dysfunctional, has-been success in the production of films and television.  So, even though Bynes may lose work, her downfall feeds the beast of the industry that spit her out.
On the other hand, the Detroit Lions – because of Young and others like him - have become the “halfway house” of the NFL. The team is a punchline. Their value as an organization has been diminished, which hurts their trade negotiations, ticket sales, merchandise sales and credible media coverage. That’s why it’s in an NFL team’s best interest, and even more so, in the league’s best interest, to avoid problem players and look for ways to support those players on the edge. Under the direction of NFL Commissioner, Roger Goddell, the league is now about as strict as it has ever been when it comes to player conduct.
What would be Hollywood’s motivation to support and protect young talent to gracefully succeed as they mature in their careers? There is none. Every negotiation with these stars is based on “What have you done for me lately? How hot are you now?” Any project already in the works is completely malleable. They can change a plot line at the drop of a hat  - or an “elevator shaft” – with the right lawyers to undue any contract language, and slick public relations professionals to make the executives look squeaky clean.
At the end of the day in both industries, you are still looking at the exploitation of young talent for the financial gain of big people with big stakes in the game in the name of “entertainment”.
Should I feel guilty for being an actress, an entertainment writer and a rabid NFL fan? Maybe. But I don’t. Every chosen profession or business comes with a price tag. It’s up to the person performing or playing to decide if it’s worth it, and to navigate the life it creates as a result.
Images via Detroit Free Press and People

Originally published on Hello Giggles

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Yeah, You Were Drafted...Now What?

The Number One Pick, Eric Fisher goes to the KC Chiefs
Yes, another column about the 2013 NFL Draft. 
But, this isn’t about rating how teams did this year, or a collection of inspiring stories about the men who were drafted (my favorite, D.J. Hayden, taken in the first-round after nearly bleeding to death following a freak injury in November). 
This is for the fans – and the would-be fans. I ask the question “what happens now?” for these NFL draft picks. These young men say being drafted is “a dream come true”, the realization of everything they’ve been working for since their Pop Warner days, and makes the sacrifices their families made to get them there worth it.
But as you’ll see (if you keep reading), the most intense and uncertain part of their journey begins once they do get drafted. This can be even more uncertain for those players drafted by teams who have a pretty uncertain future of their own – see Geno Smith, for example.
Here is a glimpse of what life will look like in the coming months for these athletes.
Step 1: Getting To Know You
First of all, no money for the rookie right now. For the newly drafted, the week following is about packing up, leaving home and getting acquainted with the franchise who chose him. For some of the top picks, less than 24 hours after having their name called, they find themselves getting a facility tour, being welcomed by the owner, the coaches, shaking hands with Pro-Bowl players and being interviewed in press conferences. More importantly, they get a copy of the massive team playbook – typically as thick as a phone book, now fitting completely on an iPad, with just as much complex content. This is the most important homework they have ever been assigned.
Step 2: What’s Mini About Mini-Camp?
The weekend post-draft begins a 3-day “Mini-Camp”. It’s hard to imagine an event with players who look like this being called “mini”. Right now, for the rookie, there is still no payout. Mini-camps are geared toward getting the newly drafted acclimated to the NFL playing schemes. It also gives coaches and management a chance to see their new players in action learning plays from the team’s playbook.
Yeah, You Were Drafted, So What Now?
Ole Miss offensive lineman, Terrell Brown, 388 pounds, 6-foot-10.
Step 3: The Rubber Meets the Road, Training Camp
Before any rookie sets foot on Training Camp soil, the dirty details of the contract have to be ironed out. Depending on draft position, the management of the organization and who the agent is, this process can be anything from easy-breezy to a nasty tug of war. Assuming this negotiation is complete, now the rookie gets paid and Training Camp starts in July. This is where a spot on the team is won or lost. No, being drafted doesn’t guarantee this young man will be in the game when the season kicks-off. Of the 8 players (on average) drafted by a team, 1.25 will start in their rookie season – that’s just less than 16%.
Step 4: Are You In or Out?
After a summer of grueling workouts and playbook study, the teams’ final rosters are set in August. The fellas drafted in rounds 1-5 are almost guaranteed to make the team – after all, the organization had to invest some cash to get these guys in the door – but, again, 16% chance of actually starting. For the rest – those drafted in rounds 6-7 or picked up undrafted – the odds are slim they’ll see action this year… or ever.
In the end, 62% of the players drafted will actually be signed to an NFL team, according toDraftMetrics.com, but only 30% of them will start for at least three years. And each of those years will be a battle, as 300 new college players fight to make their way into the NFL and make their own dreams come true.
If you thought the job market was tough in your field, imagine yourself competing for your post at this level year in and year out. Of course, the money probably helps a lot. As of 2010, the average rookie salary was $325,000 for a season.
I’m certainly happy for all of the guys picked-up in the draft, and I will be watching to see how they do. But the cynical part of me keeps thinking, “I hope they took the time between snaps to get a degree they could actually use when they need it in 4 years.” On the other hand, having that dream-come-true moment in your life is almost certainly worth figuring out a new future later.
Images via Scout.com & Sports Illustrated
First published at Hello Giggles

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Notre Dame Story That Matters: Lizzy Seeberg

Even if you don’t follow college football or the NFL, it is likely that you have heard all about – more than enough about – Notre Dame’s star football player, Manti Te’o, and his dead girlfriend that didn’t exist.
The short version of the story: A star college football player creates a long distance love affair with a wonderful girl who has leukemia. Hours before one of the most important games of his football career, the player’s grandmother dies and then, on the same day, the “love of his life” succumbs to cancer. Yet this hero – a finalist for the 2012 Heisman Trophy and predicted #1 NFL Draft pick – fought through the pain and went on to play the game of his life as Notre Dame beat Michigan State 20-3.
Could Hollywood have scripted it any better? 
The Notre Dame Story That Matters: Lizzy Seeberg
Well, there’s your problem right there. It was scripted. There was a grandmother and a football game, but there was no girlfriend with leukemia. The “girl” was nothing more than a hoax. Now, it’s yet to be determined if Te’o was just a naïve numbskull roped in to an elaborate “Cat-fishing” scam, believing he had found a true love that he had never met, or if he was in on the hoax and helped create this sob story to draw more attention to his soon-to-be NFL career. Regardless, his story has been told… and told… and told.
But that’s not the story I am interested in telling, or even exploring. I’d like to write another headline for a young woman who did exist, and really is dead: Lizzy Seeberg.
Lizzy Seeberg was a 19-year-old freshman at Saint Mary’s College, across the street from Notre Dame. She had accused a Notre Dame football player of sexual assault and eight days later, committed suicide.
From Melinda Henneberger, Washington Post: “After Lizzy went to the police, a friend of the player’s sent her a series of texts that frightened her as much as anything that had happened in the player’s dorm room. ‘Don’t do anything you would regret,’ one of them said. ‘Messing with Notre Dame football is a bad idea’.”
At the time of her death, the campus police – who have jurisdiction over all crimes on school property – still had not even interviewed the accused.
Ironically, as the story of Te’o’s fake girlfriend started to unfold, Notre Dame used private investigators to assist Te’o in unraveling the mystery and attempting to prove his innocence.
This is a stunning double standard and the Notre Dame brass should be ashamed of themselves. I could go on to explore the many allegations that the school ignored – and even covered up – abhorrent behavior by players to protect their precious football program. For that matter, I could explore what could be called an epidemic of sexual violence against woman on college campuses, specifically at the hands of athletes. And how about violence against women at the hands of professional athletes?
But something else is bothering me. I wonder how much we – as fans – have to do with the “real news” of all these terrible acts being buried to protect the reputation of the game, and the men who play it?
If you’ve followed the posts I have written for HelloGiggles, you know that I am a die-hard football fan. And with my two favorite teams out of the playoffs, my fanatic attention now turns to the draft and the college talent hoping to make it to the big game. I realize that my appetite for the sport feeds a marketing machine that fuels the news. The media, publishers and reporters know that any good-news headline about the NFL or about college football players will be greedily devoured, which means one thing: revenue.
Fans don’t want to hear the bad news headlines about the men they cheer for week in and week out. We will look for any explanation that turns our gridiron heroes back into one of the good guys.
Erin Gloria Ryan of Jezebel.com explains it this way: “We don’t want to believe that our heroes aren’t worthy of our adoration. We want our conscience clean when we celebrate their victories alongside them.”  She points out the most clichéd excuses we use to explain away these kinds of claims and stories.
“But those charges were dropped!”
“She’s just trying to get money out of him!”
“She just regrets a sexual encounter!”
“She’s just trying to get famous!”
I’m embarrassed to admit that I have not only had these thoughts, but also uttered similar words, when I have heard of these kinds of allegations against both college and NFL players that I liked. I wanted to continue to love the game without guilt.
Therein lies the rub, as they say. Until “we the people” demonstrate that getting to the truth, demanding justice and holding people accountable for their actions are more important to us than “the game”, more important than our fantasy players, than our college pride, nothing will change.
If I tell the truth, I’m not sure that will or could ever happen. But I know, for myself, from now on I will hear and listen to these kinds of reports and accusations much differently.
I am so sorry, Lizzy Seeberg. You deserved to be heard, to be protected, to be vindicated.
The Notre Dame Story That Matters: Lizzy Seeberg
After Lizzy’s death, her family raised a memorial fund, which founded The Lizzy Seeberg Volunteer House in Chicago. Please take a minute to see this.
Images courtesy of NPR.orgAssociated Press & Chicago Tribune