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How many more deaths until the NFL wakes up?

By Dave Reardon

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 07:39 p.m. HST, Feb 23, 2011



All fans of the NFL certainly agree it's a big positive that representatives of the owners and players have finally found themselves in the same room the past few days, negotiating to avoid a lockout, work stoppage or whatever you want to call it.

Wouldn't it be nice to have the problem of divvying up $9 billion in annual revenue among 32 ownership groups and a few hundred laborers in our own industries?

Revenue is the negotiating item that gets the most attention, and the one from which the inaccurately described "millionaires vs. billionaires" battle line is drawn.

But something happened last Thursday that hopefully reminded everyone involved what the real issue is.

What's really at stake is something much more important than dollar signs, franchise tags and appropriate compensation levels for rookies.

We're talking life and death.

DAVE DUERSON was found dead Thursday. Investigators said the four-time Pro Bowl safety shot himself in the chest with a shotgun. While Duerson, 50, had suffered major financial and personal setbacks in recent years, including bankruptcy proceedings, divorce and a guilty plea to domestic violence, friends said he hadn't shown suicidal tendencies.

Previously, Duerson was an all-around success story. He was a business graduate of Notre Dame, two-time Super Bowl champion, builder of a multimillion-dollar business upon his retirement from football, and a seemingly happy husband and father.

Duerson might have suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain tissue disorder that is believed to have caused depression and suicide by another retired NFL safety, Andre Waters, in 2006.

According to reports, Duerson sent texts to family members requesting his brain be used for CTE research, and that is why he shot himself in the heart instead of the head.

DEPENDING ON which studies you look at, the average life expectancy for NFL players is between 20 and 25 years shorter than that of the general population of the United States.

The league took some big steps this past season toward player safety by acknowledging the danger of head-first hits and concussions. It's going to take time for some players and fans to adjust, after decades of positive reinforcement for overly dangerous hitting. Some never will adapt, and the speed and physicality of the game will mean it's always inherently dangerous.

But it doesn't have to be so debilitating and deadly.

Football can still be a great game with clean hitting. If you doubt it, take another look at the forced fumble by Green Bay's Ryan Pickett and Clay Matthews that was such a big play in the Super Bowl a couple of weeks ago. Shoulder first, to the body, both players.

SOME POSITIVES might come from Dave Duerson's death as NFL player reps and owners continue their talks. They must remember the long-term health of the men who play the game is more important than the game itself.

The first thing that should come off the table is the proposed 18-game regular season, considering the toll the current 16 games has taken — and even before that on those who played a 14-game regular season.

A sizable chunk of that $9 billion a year in revenue must go toward making the life expectancy of former players significantly closer to 75 than 55, and to improve the quality of post-NFL life.

That should be a given, not even be up for negotiation.

Reach Star-Advertiser sports columnist Dave Reardon at dreardon@staradvertiser.com, his "Quick Reads" blog at staradvertiser.com and twitter.com/davereardon.

Dave Duerson's wish to donate his brain to research brings some comfort to his wife and son. This New York Times story can be found at staradvertiser.com.






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