BY EVAN WEINER
THE BUSINESS AND POLITICS OF SPORTS
As the clock ticks down to the March 3, 11:59 p.m. Eastern National Football League deadline for the players and owners to reach an agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement or face a lockout, the suicide death of former Chicago Bears and New York Giants player Dave Duerson should be casting a pall over the talks.
“Should be” is the operative phrase here but other than some “shock” expressed in the media covering the talks, Duerson’s death seems to be stuff that local news TV news thrives on. The murder, mayhem, sports, entertainment and weather formula seems perfect for what passes as an attempt to inform people. Duerson’s death should be an “Around the Horn” episode on ESPN but that embarrassing program brings out the worst in sportswriters and hits every negative-Oscar Madison stereotype available.
Duerson will be forgotten soon enough except in rare cases such as Alan Schwarz’s New York Times reporting on head injuries.
The labor talks are following a script, neither side is budging, the NFL owners want to keep more industry revenue, the players want to keep status quo. The National Labor Relations Board is involved, there is a federal mediator, three United States Senators have weighed in and another Congressman, Lamar Smith wants no part of the talks. Duerson’s suicide seems to have been an inconvenience but it will not be a factor in the talks.
Duerson’s death at his own hands should be shaking the entire football industry but the most telling comments about Dave Duerson and football came from his former wife.
Duerson just seems to be a battlefield casualty like Mike Webster, Andre Waters and others.
A proud warrior.
“Discarded” NFL players apparently don’t have easy transitions into the “civilian” world because of the battering they took while playing the sport. It seems the issue of players safety was settled in 1905 after President Theodore Roosevelt pressured a few college presidents into cleaning up the game after the deaths of 18 players in college games and the maiming of others.
Players safety doesn’t seem to have been much of a priority on any level, whether it is high school, college or the National Football League. The NFL has been very slow to get into the players safety issue and the league is finally addressing head issues 105 years after President Roosevelt made the issue of player safety part of his presidency.
The NFL is now urging all 50 states to take a very close look at head injuries suffered in high school and other football programs for children. Whether it is lip service or not, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent out 44 letters to states urging them to enforce strict surveillance of head injuries. The league is continuing to beef up head injury protocol but that is for future generations. But the league is not taking responsibility for past injuries.
The National Football League Players Association seems to be on the sideline in at least making players more aware of head injuries. Some players were upset when the NFL increased safety procedures last fall and threatened to fine players for hits.
Nor is college football although the NCAA owns Oscar Robertson’s basketball likeness from his days at the University of Cincinnati in perpetuity. Robertson last played for the University of Cincinnati 51 years ago. If the NCAA owns the Big O and every other college athletes' likeness, they should also own head injuries suffered by those who never played three years in the NFL. But the chances are the NCAA will ignore the perpetuity issue when it comes to health benefits.
Robertson has joined a class suit against the NCAA that was started by Ed O’Bannon in 2009 which states that the NCAA "has illegally deprived former student-athletes from "myriad revenue streams including "DVDs, video games, memorabilia, photographs, television rebroadcasts and use in advertising."
The NCAA contends it has the rights to the likenesses and the NCAA’s Collegiate Licensing Company will continue to use the likenesses.
The NFL (and probably the high school, college, minor league football, Arena Football League, All American Football Conference, American Football League, World Football League and United States Football League) battlefield is lined with casualties. There are too many stories involving Duerson, Webster, and others who died far too young. There are others who are around who tell of their problems like George Visger, Dave Pear and Brent Boyd. And there are many others who can’t or will not speak out.
The wives are talking though.
You need to go to Facebook to find out what they are saying and sportswriters whose main jobs are to glorify the macho men of fall — the Sunday gladiators — are missing a great story. The wives have become the caretakers and the United States government is providing money for players who are disabled through Social Security and Medicare.