Monday, November 20, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Analysis: Kaepernick, concussions continue to pose problems for NFL

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For aficionados of the absurd, August arrives like balm. The NFL gears up for another season and inanities abound.

This year brings the spectacle of Colin Kaepernick and his search for employment as a quarterback. All offseason, he wandered from franchise door to door, rattling his tin cup.

His task did not appear impossible. If he was no longer the star who led the 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance and a second NFC Championship Game in consecutive seasons, he remained a capable backup, with a strong arm and the long-legged stride of a wide receiver.

Except Kaepernick has a principles problem, which is to say he possesses too many. Last year he took a knee during the pregame national anthem as a way of protesting racial injustice and police brutality. His quiet demonstration upset some fans and the men who own and run football franchises.

Of late, the Ravens have given thought to signing Kaepernick. Their starter, Joe Flacco, is injured.

Steve Bisciotti, owner of the Ravens and a conservative man, met with fans at a team forum Sunday and bared his soul about his unease with hiring Kaepernick.

"We are very sensitive to it," he said, telling fans that the team was gathering information.

Bisciotti said he had that very morning sought the counsel of Ray Lewis, the Ravens former All-Pro linebacker. We have arrived at the point in my account where we can take a break and laugh out loud.

Lewis is a near-perfect arbiter of NFL ethics and hiring. In 2000, after a Super Bowl game, Lewis and his entourage engaged in drunken brawl. Two young men were stabbed repeatedly in the lungs and heart and died. Lewis and his entourage piled into his limousine. Someone fired shots at the limo as it careened off into the dark.

Blood stains were later found inside the Lewis limousine. Lewis' white suit — reportedly bloodstained — was never recovered. Lewis pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice. Two men in his entourage were charged with the murders, and Lewis testified against them, although he did so artfully. He said they had purchased knives the day before the murders, but he knew nothing of their actions that night.

The men were acquitted. Lewis was sentenced to probation and paid a big fine to the league. He also paid large settlements to both families in exchange for no admission of guilt. Lewis now draws a check as a Fox Sports commentator, and a statue of him stands outside the Ravens' stadium.

Lewis recently posted on Twitter a rambling video about Kaepernick as Lewis was being driven home from the Fox Sports studio.

Addressing "my brother" Kaepernick, Lewis counseled the young man to fall silent.

"What you do off the field, don't let too many people know," he said.

And he offered more sage advice: "The mistakes I've made I've never repeated twice. Understand?"

Understand.

The NFL being the NFL, the week's absurdities did not end there. I grew up a Jets fan, an affliction I cast off some years back. Year after year, this team offers a near-seamless combination of mediocre ownership and poor leadership. As the Jets finished 5-11 last season, and had nothing resembling an NFL-worthy quarterback, a look at Kaepernick seemed advisable.

Except there was his principle problem.

The Jets' owner, Woody Johnson, is a rock-solid conservative and a Donald Trump man, which is the common position for NFL owners. (The Patriots are near besotted in their love of our hyperbolic president; their owner, Robert K. Kraft, showered $1 million on Trump's inaugural, and Bill Belichick wrote a letter endorsing him last fall).

Trump during his campaign took to lampooning worries about concussions: "See, we don't go by these new, and very much softer, NFL rules. Concussions ... ‘Uh oh, got a little ding on the head? No, no, you can't play for the rest of the season' — our people are tough."

Circling back to Johnson, the Jets' owner opined that he did not think much of Kaepernick's protest. So the Jets passed on him and went with 38-year-old journeyman and former Buc Josh McCown.

The Jets this week made one more deposit in the league's absurdity bank. Commissioner Roger Goodell dropped by the team camp in the wake of a report revealing more hideous news about football concussions and brain injuries.

A week earlier the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that 110 of 111 brains donated by the families of deceased NFL players to be used for medical study showed signs of the brain deterioration known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy. This disease, which corrodes the brain, is associated with depression, dementia and memory loss.

A fan asked Goodell about this lethal problem encoded in the nature of his game. Goodell set to talking of this new safety rule and that one, and Jamal Adams, a rookie Jet safety sitting next to Goodell, wagged his head and offered his take. "I'm all about making the game safer," he said, "but as a defensive player, I'm not a big fan of it."

He added, "Literally, I would ... if I had a perfect place to die, I would die on the field."

Some fans cheered the young man. I'm not inclined to blame a 21-year-old, although as he can read and his brain is perhaps not yet clouded by too many hits, a more thoughtful response might have been grand. As it was, it was like listening as a coal miner extols the dangers of black lung.

Eventually Goodell resumed the waffling, puzzled response beloved of pro and college football administrators. So much remains unknown, he said.

"I think the one thing everyone agrees on is there's an awful lot more questions than there are answers at this point," Goodell said.

The NFL answers more questions about itself with each passing season.

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Published: 11/20/17