Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Brewers Season Summed Up In 122 Words

This is all that needs to be said.

Teammates were left shaking their heads as word spread in the visitors' clubhouse Monday that catcher Jonathan Lucroy had injured his right hand in a bizarre hotel-room accident, the latest in a long line of Brewers to go down.

Lucroy will miss 4-6 weeks with what the Brewers termed a "boxer's fracture" of the right hand. That diagnosis sounded more fearsome that it was; Lucroy said he was reaching under his hotel-room bed Sunday night for a lost sock when his wife shifted a suitcase, which fell on her husband's hand.

X-rays taken Monday revealed the fracture. The Brewers recalled catcher Martin Maldonado from Triple-A Nashville, placed Lucroy on the 15-day disabled list and sent him back to Milwaukee for further examination. 

Yup. The 2012 Milwaukee Brewers!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Random Rabble: May 22

I tweeted a few times about Anthony LaPanta being named the voice of the Wild on Fox Sports North, but haven't commented on here. LaPanta has me by a few years (he's publicly admitted to being 43, while I'm a couple months short of 35), but our pedigrees aren't that dissimilar. I don't know him that well, but he's talked about dreaming of this kind of opportunity his whole life. I grew up a relatively uncoordinated chap who would carry a tape recorder around all the time. Called ninth-grade basketball games on public access television when I was in the seventh grade. It just was something I enjoyed doing from the start, and like Anthony, I have my dream jobs. I have one of them now (UMD), and I couldn't be happier for LaPanta that he has achieved one of his career dreams.

As for the public backlash, I know Gopher fans didn't like him. I've heard some of the reasons, and with my own responsibilities, it's been hard to judge his work.

(The couple times I DVRed Gopher games last year to help with my own UMD game prep, I actually thought he did an okay job, if not better. But honestly, I wasn't watching the game to critique LaPanta. I was watching it to see tendencies of the Gophers' opponent, because UMD had a game coming up against that team.)

I've met him a few times at the rink, certainly not nearly enough to be a fair judge of a man's character. I can tell you that there aren't many guys in the business I've met who work harder than he does. If that work ethic carries over, I don't see any reason he won't succeed with the Wild. It will help him immensely to have a steady, experienced analyst in Mike Greenlay after two years of a rotating booth for Gophers games.

As for the Gophers' vacant TV gig, don't worry, Minnesota fans. I won't be applying. :)

I'm on one of my three to four vacations from Brewers baseball this week. Even in years where the team has been good, I've found myself needing a week or so at a time to stop watching the team because they're constantly aggravating me by playing bad baseball. I expected the offense to struggle, and it has. It's scored a few runs here and there, but with no consistency. Too many guys are struggling at the dish for anything better than that.

What's been a huge disappointment is the starting rotation and the defense. They've been kicking the ball around like amateurs lately, and that's hard to watch because it's usually not a sign of a winning ballclub. I don't expect Randy Wolf to win a Cy Young, but more is needed from him, along with Yovani Gallardo and Shaun Marcum. Zack Greinke has been good, but he can't carry the team while pitching every fifth day.

I'll be back this weekend. Or next week. Hopefully the team will be playing better at that point. In a long season like this, it's hard to write anything off. But the longer this goes, the longer the summer will be in the Brew City.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Mike McCarthy Recognizes Obvious Problems With Packers

The Green Bay Packers did not tackle well last season, on their way to a divisional round playoff loss to the New York Giants.

I don't think I'm breaking new ground here.

The Packers struggled all season with fundamentals surrounding tackling, catching, and protecting the ball. Aaron Rodgers didn't throw a lot of interceptions, and he completed nearly 70 percent of his throws, but he was betrayed by receivers who were passing around some sort of Stone Hands virus at various points during the season.

The Packers aren't making a lot of changes at receiver -- outside of perhaps jettisoning Donald Driver at some point in favor of giving youngster Randall Cobb more playing time -- so Rodgers is stuck with the same crew this fall.

Head coach Mike McCarthy knows ball security and tackling were a major problem, as he chronicled in a recent appearance on Sirius NFL Radio (via ESPN Milwaukee).

The game of football, in my view, will always come down to fundamentals. You only have so much time, so how are you going to break that time up? Really, the two biggest things we’re going to spend more time on is tackling and handling the football. You have a regular season schedule that you play, and the postseason is obviously the most important because you’re fighting all year to get into that post-season. We were the best team in football throughout the regular season. But you have to play your best football at the end of the year. Our issues were fundamental. We had some of that recurring throughout the year. I’m talking more about the tackling.

In the Giants’ playoff game we did not handle the football very well at all, as poor as we’ve played in that area in quite some time. Those are the things that I really focus on. We did a lot of positive things on defense, as far as taking the football away. We’ve talked about the pass rush. We’ve talked about the pass coverage. Those are things that the coaching staff has looked in the mirror – how did we utilize the players last year, how can we better utilize them this year? We have players here who are currently here that have to get better through the offseason programs. I am confident they will do that. I don’t like the attitude that we drafted six new rookies and all of sudden everything is fixed. That is not the case. That’s false expectations putting on these rookies. We need to improve from within. That has been our strength every single year. That will be no different this year. And this rookie class needs to come in and compete and contribute to our success.

None of this is going to make headlines nationally. We know it's true. It's why I repeatedly scoffed at the notion that the Kansas City loss provided some sort of blueprint to beat the Packers. The blueprint was there all season.

The defense wasn't very good. When they forced turnovers, they looked like gangbusters, but there were too many explosive plays and long drives permitted for anyone to think it was championship caliber. The Chiefs protected the ball against Green Bay well, and were justly rewarded.

Receivers dropped too many passes, and that came back to bite the team. When the Packers needed to sustain offense against the Giants, no one was sharp. Blame the time off McCarthy gave Rodgers in Week 17 if you want. I have, and I continue to think it was a factor in how he played against the Giants.

But the dropsies were a problem at times during the regular season, and they were definitely a problem against the Giants.

I'm concerned about this defense, but do like the changes Ted Thompson has made. There should be some great competition for starting jobs and playing time during training camp. Of course, the limited number of contact practices teams can conduct might make it tough for McCarthy to drive home the fundamentals -- especially tackling -- the way he might want to.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

UMD Hockey 2012-13 Schedule

Much of this was known a few months ago, but now it's official.

The UMD men's hockey team announced its 2012-13 schedule Tuesday, marking the program's 48th and final year as a member of the WCHA. Here is the slate of 37 games (including an exhibition).

Oct. 12-13 –OHIO STATE (NC), 7:07
Oct. 18-19 –at Notre Dame (NC), 6:05 p.m.
Oct. 26-27 –WISCONSIN, 7:07 p.m.
Nov. 10-11 –at Nebraska-Omaha, 7:07 p.m., 2:07 p.m.
Nov. 16-17– at North Dakota, 7:37 p.m., 7:07 p.m.
Nov. 23-24 –ST. CLOUD STATE, 7:37 p.m., 7:07 p.m.
Nov. 30-Dec. 1 –at Michigan Tech, 6:07 p.m.
Dec. 7-8 –BEMIDJI STATE, 7:07 p.m.
Dec. 14-15 –at Alaska Anchorage, 10:07 p.m.
Dec. 28-29 –Florida College Classic, Estero, Fla. (NC - matchups TBA)
Jan. 11-12 –MICHIGAN TECH, 7:07 p.m.
Jan. 18-19 – at Colorado College, 8:37 p.m., 8:07 p.m.
Jan. 26 –USA UNDER-18 (exhibition), 2:07 p.m.
Feb. 1-2 –DENVER, 7:07 p.m.
Feb. 8-9 –MINNESOTA STATE-MANKATO, 7:37 p.m., 7:07 p.m.
Feb. 15-16 –at Bemidji State, 7:07 p.m.
Feb. 22-23 –at Minnesota, 7:07 p.m.
March 1-2 –ALABAMA-HUNTSVILLE (NC), 7:07 p.m.
March 8-9 – NEBRASKA-OMAHA, 7:07 p.m.

March 15-17 –WCHA Playoffs, first round
March 21-23 –WCHA Final Five, St. Paul
March 29-31 –NCAA Regionals
April 11-13 – NCAA Frozen Four, Pittsburgh

Monday, May 14, 2012

Random Rabble: May 14

If you're not a huge hockey fan, there's nothing sexy about the NHL conference finals. Of course, I'm a hockey fan, so I'm thinking we'll get two enjoyable series. In the East, New Jersey visits the Garden to battle the Rangers starting Monday night. Two longtime rivals who play in the same division, with visions of 1994 never too far away when the teams meet in the playoffs.

Of course, we can always hope that Sean Avery finds his way back into the Rangers lineup. Then, we can get a replay of this:

Ah, yes. The Sean Avery rule.

In the West, Los Angeles has a 1-0 series lead on Phoenix after a 4-2 road win Sunday night. Dustin Brown and Jonathan Quick are staging a pretty impressive duel for the Conn Smythe, with Brown currently holding a lead, at least in my view.

The Star Tribune's Mike Russo reports that Gophers' play-by-play voice Anthony LaPanta is on the verge of becoming the new guy for the Wild. LaPanta has done high school hockey, and spent two seasons as the Gophers' television voice on Fox Sports North. It's not a sexy hire, but it's a familiar voice to replace another familiar voice (Dan Terhaar). The Wild have re-signed TV analyst Mike Greenlay and the radio team of Bob Kurtz and Tom Reid, so this is the only change that will be made in terms of Wild broadcasters.

The move will leave the Gophers without a television voice. We'll see how that develops during the summer.

Finally, a brief note ... St. Cloud State athletics lost a close friend over the weekend with the passing of Marty Sundvall. Marty was a statistician at football and hockey games, always making his presence known in the press box. When you travel with a hockey team through the winter, you meet some really interesting people in press boxes around the sport. Some of them stand out more than others, and Marty was indeed one of those. He was a joy to deal with, and he will be missed. My thoughts are with his family and all those who were close to him.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Vikings Fans Close to Relief, Rejoicing

The last two days have been long ones for fans of the Minnesota Vikings.

Between non-sensical debates, stupid amendments, and senseless alternative ideas, the Minnesota Vikings stadium plan has survived both houses of the state Legislature.

The House passed the bill Monday night, and the Senate followed up on Tuesday.

Wednesday is a big day, though. The bills are different, which means a conference committee will convene to reconcile them into one bill that will then be presented to the House and Senate for another round of voting.

The committee members will meet sometime Wednesday (monitor this page for updates on the schedule), according to reports Tuesday night. Among the six on the committee is Duluth Sen. Roger Reinert, who voted for the stadium bill. In fact, all the conference committee members -- three from the Senate and three from the House -- voted for it.

This isn't over, yet, but it's getting close. The Senate got a little silly -- trying to throw in an amendment requiring a referendum in Minneapolis for the city's share of the cost -- but eventually passed a pretty sane bill.

The Vikings may end up kicking in a bit more money, but this is looking like something that could be signed into law by the end of the week. From there, Vikings fans can focus on football and watch their team get better under GM Rick Spielman and head coach Leslie Frazier.

And, yes, it will get better.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Alex Ovechkin, Dan Girardi Involved in Questionable Hits

Much has been made since Saturday's Washington win over the New York Rangers of a hit by Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin on New York defenseman Dan Girardi. Puck Daddy has more. Let's go to the videotape.

It doesn't sound like Ovechkin will face a suspension, which will surely endear him to Ranger fans as they play Game 5 at the Garden Monday night.

I don't have a real problem with the decision. At 0:09 of the video, you can see Ovechkin make what I believe to be contact with Girardi's shoulder. He may have hit Girardi's head, but I believe the principal point of contact was the shoulder.

Since Ovechkin left his feet before contact, a charging call is the correct one here.

The problem I have with this issue is how much control the media has over the fans. The Ovechkin hit was talked about, debated, and shown many times over the weekend. Fans had a chance to throw opinions out there and debate whether Ovechkin -- a repeat offender -- should face discipline.

But -- via my SB Nation friends at Japer's Rink -- what about this hit?

Puck? Gone.

Hendricks? Unsuspecting of the hit.

Contact? High.

I don't think Girardi should be suspended for this hit, but if you feel differently about the Ovechkin hit, how can you not think that way here? No, Girardi didn't leave his feet, but that's not the only qualifier for a questionable hit. Just ask Claude Giroux.

Giroux should have a hearing on this one. Wouldn't be surprised if he sat a game, simply because there appears to be more intent to make contact with the head, and direct contact with the head was indeed made.

The NHL has made some tough decisions, and I haven't agreed with all of them. But the league got the Raffi Torres call right, and I believe they have come closer to being right on most of the decisions made this postseason, outside of the Shea Weber debacling.

As the playoffs go on, it doesn't seem like a strech to say there are more difficult decisions to come for the Department of Player Safety.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Kurt Warner Causes Slight Stir With Comments on Kids and Football

In the wake of NFL great Junior Seau's suicide earlier this week, there has been a run of football legends appearing on national radio and television shows to talk about the tragedy. As you could imagine, much of that discussion has revolved around head trauma in sports, mainly football.

We don't know that head trauma had anything to do with the end of Seau's life. I think it's being largely assumed that whoever ends up studying Seau's brain will find some sort of damage that can be traced to his football career, but it's a dangerous card to play until the findings are announced in a few months.

That said, it has launched a pretty wide-ranging discussion on head injuries. On Thursday's Dan Patrick Show, future Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner was a guest. He told Patrick that he wasn't necessarily keen on the idea of his sons playing football.

“They both have the dream, like dad, to play in the NFL,” Warner said. “That’s their goal. And when you hear things like the bounties, when you know certain things having played the game, and then obviously when you understand the size, the speed, the violence of the game, and then you couple that with situations like Junior Seau — was that a ramification of all the years playing? And things that go with that. It scares me as a dad. I just wonder — I wonder what the league’s going to be like. I love that the commissioner is doing a lot of things to try to clean up the game from that standpoint and improve player safety, which helps, in my mind, a lot. But it’s a scary thing for me.”

Asked if he would prefer that his sons not play football, Warner answered, “Yes, I would. Can’t make that choice for them if they want to, but there’s no question in my mind.”

Warner's comments caused a firestorm of response from all over the map. One of the more notable reactions came from former Giants receiver Amani Toomer on NBC Sports Talk (completely underrated show, by the way):

"I'd definitely have my son to play football," Toomer said. "That's what the Toomer family does. We all play football. But what this reminds me of is the guy at the basketball court, who once he gets done playing takes the ball and ruins the game for everybody else. I think Kurt Warner needs to keep his opinions to himself when it comes to this. Everything that he's gotten in his life has come from playing football. He works at the NFL Network right now. For him to try and trash the game, it seems to me that it's just a little disingenuous to me."

I'd like to think Toomer knows now that he overreacted a little bit here. The fact that Warner made a lot of money and gained a lot of notoriety playing football doesn't disqualify him from having an opinion that may not make football look totally rosy. In fact, Warner is fully qualified to say what he said, and we are in a better place because he had the guts to say what was on his mind, even though he had to know he might take some heat for saying it.

ESPN commentator Merril Hoge -- a well-known advocate for concussion awareness, largely because of his own experiences -- jumped on Warner, too.

“I think it’s irresponsible and unacceptable,” Hoge said of Warner suggesting that football is a dangerous game for children. “He has thrown the game that has been so good to him under the bus. He sounds extremely uneducated.

... “Head trauma is not the issue here — it’s how head trauma is treated,” Hoge said. “The game is safer than it has ever been because we’re being proactive with head trauma. That is the biggest issue.

... “The biggest problem in our society today with our youth is obesity,” Hoge said. “You will do more damage to your son or daughter by allowing them to sit on the couch, play XBox and eat a donut, health-wise, than you will ever do if you put them on a football field and it’s in the right structure. You think of obesity and all the things that come from that — diabetes and lung and heart and joint issues, we can go on and on — the last thing we should do is discourage children from activity.”

Like Toomer, I'll give Hoge the benefit of the doubt to an extent. Guys who play football are naturally protective of the sport. It's not any different than hockey players last summer amid the Boogaard-Rypien-Belak tragedies. This might not be an easy time to be a die-hard NFL fan, but there will be productive discussions that come out of all of this.

Warner, by the way, did try to clarify his national radio comments. He appeared on ESPN Radio later Thursday.

“I agree from my standpoint that everything I have gotten, and I love the game and I wouldn’t change a thing about my career,” Warner said in response to Toomer’s remarks.  “I’ve enjoyed every bit of it.  I continue to love it.  I continue to watch it, and am a big fan of the game.  But at the end of the day, you know, I’ve seen how my wife looks at this game when I’m out there getting hit.  And it’s different when you put on a parent’s hat.  And, yeah, I want my kids to play and I want them to be healthy and I’d love them to have a great long career whether that’s collegiate, whether that’s professional.  I’d love all that.  But as a parent I can’t avoid the fact that it’s a dangerous sport, and it’s a violent sport.

“And it’s not just football I’m talking about.  Any time my kids are put in harm’s way, as a parent I say, ‘I don’t want them to do that.  I don’t want them to take that chance.’  Can I protect them from anything?  No.  Am I gonna sit here and say, ‘You can’t do this.  You can’t do that, you can’t drive in a car, you can’t do all the things that are risky in life.’  Of course not.

“But my point being is that as a parent, do you think about that?  Do you think about the violence of the game when your kids play?  And, yeah, my kids are 13 years old and my son has already suffered a concussion.  Do I think about that?  Of course I think about that.  And the bottom line for me as a parent, is as much as I love the game and what it’s all about and what it’s done for me, the most important thing for me is the safety of my kids.  And so that’s my point, is that I consider it.  And it’s in my thought process.  And when they play and when they wanna play and when they talk about playing professionally, I’m very conscious of that.

“And, you know, at the end of the day, I’d love for them to play football.  If they don’t play football and never suffer an injury doing anything, I’m going to be an extremely parent as they move into the rest of their life and take care of their family and their kids.   So I don’t know why I would have to keep my comments to myself.  I’m speaking as a father.  But I love the game of football and I’ll always love it and I’m so appreciate of what it did for me.”

It might not put the toothpaste back in the tube, because he still said what he said on Dan Patrick's show.

But Warner has every right to be worried about the future of the game. When I broached the subject on Twitter Friday evening, he was kind enough to respond.

I'm not going to act like Warner's above everyone else for any reason, but he's a smart and articulate football lifer who wants this game to be great while also protecting those who choose to play it.

As a long-time football fan, I can tell you that no level of play is worth risking the long-term health of the athletes involved. Simply put, we have to work to make sure the game is as safe as it possibly can be. There are inherent risks involved in any sport -- especially those that involve contact -- but those risks should be minimized whenever possible ... even if it's at the risk of alienating some fans who believe the sport is being "wussified" or whatever you want to call it.

There are ways to make football safer without turning it into flag football. If we can focus on that, progress will be made, and conscientious people like Warner will feel better about their children taking up the game.

Kurt Zellers Confuses and Contradicts

Minnesota House Speaker Rep. Kurt Zellers -- a Republican from Maple Grove by way of Grand Forks -- spent much of this year's legislative session saying nothing of note about the Vikings stadium issue.

Based on his comments Thursday, he probably should have kept it that way.

When it was announced that the $975 million plan to build the Vikings a new stadium in Minneapolis would finally get a vote in the Minnesota House and Senate, Zellers made it abundantly clear that he could not support the bill.

You know, the bill that members of his party helped negotiate and write. That bill.

As if that wasn't bad enough, Zellers then appeared on KFAN with Dan Barreiro Thursday afternoon. Asked about the prospect of the Vikings moving, Zellers admitted he didn't want to see that, called himself a Vikings fan, and then said ...

"That's why we're gonna have a vote on the House floor. Hopefully it will pass, and hopefully the governor will get a chance to sign the bill."

You know, the bill he's not going to vote for. That bill. He's not going to vote for it, but he wants it to pass.

On KFAN (podcast it here), Zellers tried his best to blame Governor Mark Dayton for the bill's struggles, and also did his part to put pressure for the bill's passage on the governor and the legislature's DFL minority.

Yes, you heard that correctly. It's up to the minority party to get a bill passed, according to the House Speaker.

This is your government at work, people. For six years, Democrats and Republicans alike have put off the inevitable -- that the Metrodome would have to be replaced. That a Democrat is a leading force in this particular stadium bill and a Republican has come out vehemently opposed to the bill (while hoping it passes) is simply a factor of timing.

Zellers wants to play the blame game. In doing so, he contradicts himself, both in terms of how people should see this situation, and how he feels about the bill. Seriously, how can you say you want something to pass when you're not going to vote in favor of it? It's confusing and hard to follow, but in the end, it's all about making this stadium a political pawn to get the things passed that Zeller wants.

It's not about blame. The Vikings stadium is simply the government shutdown of 2012. They can't close the government this year (the budget is a two-year cycle), so they need another issue to bicker and blame each other for.

You might remember that -- during the shutdown -- Dayton worked his rear end off, trying to get the majority party to negotiate a budget that all sides could agree upon. In the end, after seeing no progress, Dayton relented and gave the GOP virtually everything the GOP asked for, because the alternative was keeping the government in lockdown mode.

There is no "giving in" this time for Dayton. He sat down with Republican leaders and worked up a stadium bill. Now, one of those Republican leaders is speaking out against the bill.

While hoping it passes.

Just another day in Minnesota politics, I guess.

(You can make your voice heard. Go here, look up your local representative, and make a phone call or write an e-mail. Do not let this pass without making sure you contact your representative. Just please be respectful when you do, no matter your feelings on the issue.)

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Junior Seau's Death Comes With No Immediate Answers

The video of Junior Seau's distraught mother -- not long after learning of her son's death by suicide -- pretty much says it all.

(This isn't graphic in any way, but it is extremely emotional, so keep that in mind before you hit the play button.)

It's a mother who now has to bury a son. And in front of the world, she's trying to come to grips with that and find some reason why.

So are the rest of us.

Junior Seau, a feared linebacker and one of the all-time greats in the NFL, died Wednesday of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 43, and leaves behind three kids and an ex-wife to go along with his poor, grief-stricken mother.

Seau is the latest in a line way too long. A line of pro athletes who have lost their lives too soon. He's the eighth member of the Chargers' 1994 team that went to the Super Bowl to die.

(He's the first of that group to take his own life. Three of the eight died of heart issues, one of a drug overdose, one from a lightning strike, one in a car accident, and one in a plane crash.)

Cue the speculation, because there are no definitive answers. Seau left no note, and no one has indicated there were any signs of depression.

Seau’s death has fueled speculation that a 20-year pro football career inevitably included head injuries that took a permanent toll.

Recent studies have found higher rates of cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression among former players with a history of concussions.

A 2007 study by the University of North Carolina found a threefold increase of depression among retired NFL players who had three or more concussions.
Getting help

Depression can be treated and relief is within reach. Here's how to get help.

“There is an association between TBI (traumatic brain injury) and mood disorders, depression being one version of that,” said Dr. John Reed, chief executive of the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in La Jolla, which is researching the mechanisms and possible treatments of traumatic brain injury.

“It’s important to remember that it’s also entirely possible he could have had an unrelated mood disorder,” Reed said. “One in four Americans sometime in their life will develop clinical depression.”

We may never know anything definitive. Because Seau shot himself in the chest, there is at least a lingering hope that his family will allow CTE researchers to look at his brain, searching for the signs of CTE, a concussion-related brain disease that is still a mystery to many. To this point, it can only be discovered after death by an examination of a person's brain.

In a piece for Esquire, Chris Jones examines this part of the issue.

Because Seau apparently shot himself in the chest, his death will be inevitably compared to Dave Duerson's, the former Chicago Bear who also shot himself in the chest last year, better to preserve his brain for science and lawsuits. There is no doubt that over his twenty brutal seasons in the NFL, Seau suffered his share of brain damage. There will be dark shadows found inside of him. And everyone will talk about how something has to change and how terrible this all is and, gee, is it really worth all this for a game? And then everyone will buy their tickets and popcorn and get ready for some subtly altered version of football.

... Why do football players kill themselves? On the surface, at least, they do it for the same reason hockey players like Rick Rypien and Wade Belak do. And for the same reason taxi drivers and ballet dancers and poets and construction workers and janitors and teachers and doctors do: They do it because they are depressed, because they are in such a dark place that they choose death. It's a hard thing to think about, but if you do anything in the memory of Junior Seau today, please think about this for a moment: How bad would your life have to be for you to put a gun to your chest and put a bullet into your heart? How deep would be that despair?

And he's right. It's not a fun thing to think about, but just ponder for a moment how bad you things would need to be before you even consider something like this. And how sickening is the thought?

You can't rationalize suicide, no matter what. Even if researchers declare that Seau was a puddle of a man compared to a "normal" 43-year-old, it doesn't solve everything.

After all, it's easy to ask why someone wouldn't get help in such a situation? And it's a reasonable conclusion. If your life is this bad, your thoughts this irrational, why wouldn't you ask someone for some help?

None of it will answer every question that comes up. At the end of the day, depression is an illness. It can be treated effectively, but someone has to recognize the symptoms and warning signs first. Please don't ignore them in yourself, or the ones you love.

It will be a long summer of discussion about the impact that contact sports have on the people who play them. Seau's death won't be forgotten, and hopefully it can be taken as a sign that depression can happen to anyone, no matter their status in society.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Saints Player Punishments Released

The NFL had already dropped the hammer on the New Orleans Saints for a bounty scandal that came out in early March. Head coach Sean Payton is suspended until after the Super Bowl, and then-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is out indefinitely.

Wednesday, four players who were prominently involved in the program were suspended by the league. The full press release is below.

The Packers signed defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove as a free agent after the scandal broke, so it's to be assumed the organization knew a suspension was coming. They might be surprised at the length, but the team should have already prepared to not have Hargrove at the outset of the regular season.

Four players - Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith, and Jonathan Vilma - were notified today that they have been suspended without pay for conduct detrimental to the NFL as a result of their leadership roles in the New Orleans Saints' pay-for-performance/bounty program that endangered player safety over three seasons from 2009-2011. Participation by players in any such program is prohibited by the NFL Constitution and Bylaws, the standard NFL Player Contract, and the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The specific discipline was determined by Commissioner Roger Goodell after a thorough review of extensive evidence corroborated by multiple independent sources. Under Article 46 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the standard NFL Player Contract, a player is subject to discipline by the commissioner for conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the NFL. The discipline imposed today for such detrimental conduct is as follows:

n Scott Fujita (now with the Cleveland Browns) is suspended without pay for the first three games of the 2012 regular season. The record established that Fujita, a linebacker, pledged a significant amount of money to the prohibited pay-for-performance/bounty pool during the 2009 NFL Playoffs when he played for the Saints. The pool to which he pledged paid large cash rewards for "cart-offs" and "knockouts," plays during which an opposing player was injured.

n Defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove (now with the Green Bay Packers) is suspended without pay for the first eight games of the 2012 regular season. Hargrove actively participated in the program while a member of the Saints. Hargrove submitted a signed declaration to the league that established not only the existence of the program at the Saints, but also that he knew about and participated in it. The evidence showed that Hargrove told at least one player on another team that Vikings quarterback Brett Favre was a target of a large bounty during the NFC Championship Game in January of 2010. Hargrove also actively obstructed the league's 2010 investigation into the program by being untruthful to investigators.

n Will Smith of the Saints is suspended without pay for the first four games of the 2012 regular season. Smith, a defensive end, assisted Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams in establishing and funding the program during a period in which he was a captain and leader of the defensive unit. Multiple independent sources also confirmed that Smith pledged significant sums to the program pool for "cart-offs" and "knockouts" of opposing players.

n Linebacker Jonathan Vilma of the Saints is suspended without pay for the 2012 NFL season, effective immediately per league policy for season-long suspensions. The investigation concluded that while a captain of the defensive unit Vilma assisted Coach Williams in establishing and funding the program. Multiple independent sources also confirmed that Vilma offered a specific bounty -- $10,000 in cash - to any player who knocked Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner out of the 2009 Divisional Playoff Game and later pledged the same amount to anyone who knocked Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2009 NFC Championship Game the following week (played on January 24, 2010). Vilma is eligible to be reinstated after the Super Bowl in 2013.

Fujita, Hargrove, and Smith may participate in all off-season activity, including preseason games, prior to the suspensions taking effect. Each player disciplined today is entitled to appeal the decision within three days. If an appeal is filed, Commissioner Goodell would hold a hearing at which the player may speak on his behalf and be represented by counsel.

"It is the obligation of everyone, including the players on the field, to ensure that rules designed to promote player safety, fair play, and the integrity of the game are adhered to and effectively and consistently enforced," Commissioner Goodell said. "Respect for the men that play the game starts with the way players conduct themselves with each other on the field."

The evidence conclusively demonstrated that from 2009-2011 Saints players of their own accord pledged significant amounts of their own money toward bounties, that players accepted payments for "cart-offs" and "knockouts" of injured opposing players, and that the payout amounts doubled and tripled for playoff games.

Commissioner Goodell concluded, as he did with the Saints' non-player employees, that it was appropriate to focus on those individuals who had a higher degree of responsibility and whose conduct warranted special attention. While a significant number of players participated in the pay-for-performance program, whether by contributing funds to the pool or collecting cash rewards, the players disciplined participated at a different and more significant level, Commissioner Goodell noted.

"In assessing player discipline," Commissioner Goodell said, "I focused on players who were in leadership positions at the Saints; contributed a particularly large sum of money toward the program; specifically contributed to a bounty on an opposing player; demonstrated a clear intent to participate in a program that potentially injured opposing players; sought rewards for doing so; and/or obstructed the 2010 investigation."

Each of the four players disciplined today met one or more of those criteria, Commissioner Goodell said.

The evidence supporting today's disciplinary decisions is based on extensive documentation and interviews with multiple sources. The information was developed by NFL Security, working with independent forensic analysts, and the disciplinary decisions are each based on evidence that has been independently corroborated by multiple sources. The facts supporting the discipline issued today are largely the same as the facts that Commissioner Goodell relied upon in March in assessing discipline on the club and several non-player employees. Those facts have been part of the public record for two months and have not been disputed by the team or the individuals involved.

"No bounty program can exist without active player participation," Commissioner Goodell said. "The evidence clearly showed that the players being held accountable today willingly and enthusiastically embraced the bounty program. Players put the vast majority of the money into this program and they share responsibility for playing by the rules and protecting each other within those rules."

The NFL Players Association received the confidential March 2 and March 21 reports on the Saints matter that were distributed to the clubs. In addition, members of the NFL staff, including the NFL Security investigators, met with NFLPA officials to review the results of their investigation. A number of current and former players, including each player disciplined today, were offered the opportunity to be interviewed with counsel present. One player (Hargrove) submitted a written statement in which he did not dispute the existence of the program, but no player agreed to be interviewed in person. In addition, the NFLPA publicly stated that it conducted its own investigation into this matter, but it has shared no information from that investigation with the NFL.

Commissioner Goodell also has advised the NFLPA of the names of all other players shown by the NFL's investigation to have participated in the Saints' pay-for-performance/bounty program but were not disciplined. The commissioner again invited the union to provide recommendations on how best to promote fair play, player safety and the elimination of bounties from the game at all levels. He said that identifying the other participants may assist the union in its stated desire to advance those goals.

Discipline for the Saints and club management was announced by the NFL on March 21. The Saints were fined $500,000 and forfeited two second-round draft choices (one in 2012 and one in 2013). In addition, suspensions without pay were issued to former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (indefinitely), head coach Sean Payton (2012 NFL season), general manager Mickey Loomis (first eight regular-season games of 2012), and assistant head coach Joe Vitt (first six regular-season games of 2012).