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    Burwell: Warner's Honesty Should Be Applauded

    Burwell: Warner's honesty should be applauded

    BY BRYAN BURWELL, Post-Dispatch Sports Columnist
    Wednesday, May 9, 2012

    Before we allow this very important debate about the importance of player safety in pro football to disintegrate into a silly exercise of infantile name-calling (oops, too late for that), I was actually hoping that some genuine good could come out of the darkness.

    So much for my hopes and dreams.

    Even when smart people try to talk intelligently about the very obvious and painful facts of the essence of the NFL — that it is wildly popular, inherently dangerous, intoxicatingly irresistible and, yes, desperately needs to be fixed — these truth tellers are greeted with strong resistance.

    So Kurt Warner goes on television in the wake of Junior Seau's death and the former Rams quarterback has the common sense to say something that a lot of people are thinking — that he's scared about the inherent dangers of the game — and he's assailed by former players (see: Merril Hoge and Amani Toomer) whose idea of addressing this is to slap duct tape on everyone's mouths, cover their eyes and tell everyone to enjoy the view.

    Thankfully, Warner is not alone. Thankfully, he's one of the growing legions of former players who are honest enough to admit that they're scared of what the game they love may have done to them. That doesn't make Warner a traitor. It makes him an important voice that needs to be heard, not shouted down.

    On the Dan Patrick Show, Warner was asked if he wanted his sons to play the game and he admitted his reluctance. "(It) scares me," he said. "They both have the dream, like (their) dad, to play in the NFL. When you hear things like the bounty and when you understand the size, the speed, the violence of the game, and you couple that with Junior Seau and was that a (ramification) of playing all those years, it's a scary thing for me."

    Anyone who has been paying attention to the headlines in the NFL over the past 15 months has surely at least considered how they feel about the nation's most popular sport. Tales of bounties, lawsuits and suicides will do that to even the most devoted football lover. So why not Warner?

    So it must have surprised him that his intelligent observations were greeted with such hostility. Hoge, who like Warner earns his living now on TV as an NFL commentator, said on ESPN that Warner's words were "irresponsible and unacceptable. He has thrown the game that has been so good to him under the bus. He sounds extremely uneducated."

    No, he sounds positively enlightened and profoundly human. Warner ought to be commended, not criticized. I love that he hasn't backpedaled with a softer version of the truth. Instead, he's talking more, and doing it in the most unlikely place of all: the league-owned NFL Network.

    "It's disappointing that you can't have an opinion, and it can't start dialogue," Warner said on Monday night's NFL All-Access show. "It's OK to differ, it's OK to disagree with my opinion, but I always hope that it can start dialogue. Everybody can share their points of view and we can combine all of that to make a better world or a better game for those that are growing up and that are going to play."

    Saying this on NFL Network is no small thing. It would be easy for the league to try to silence Warner. Instead, it gave him a larger platform. It's just another sign that the league has clearly changed its institutional attitude about the dangers of traumatic head injuries and its willingness to conduct meaningful public dialogue on the subject.

    With the very public discipline against the New Orleans Saints and the stiff penalties for the excessive hits over the past few seasons, Commissioner Roger Goodell has decided, regardless of what we may feel are his ultimate motivations, that he has to change the culture of his industry. There are countless safeguards in place that will go a long way toward preventing long-term damage to the men who sacrifice their bodies for the good of the game.

    Thankfully, the changes that the league is making now to deal with head trauma among active players is the right way to go. But it's not enough. It must be to go back and correct the mistakes of the past. There is a reason thousands of former players are placing their names on lawsuits. When you see that there is enough circumstantial evidence that the old NFL seems to have engaged in tactics that covered up the dangers of concussions, reasonable folks would say that reparations are the solution.

    When you hear the stories of how the NFL and the NFLPA continue to pass the buck on who is responsible for footing the hefty bill that will go toward providing what will solve one large issue — critical lifetime health benefits that these retired players deserve and earned — it makes both Goodell and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith sound as heartless as tobacco executives denying their past sins.


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    Re: Burwell: Warner's Honesty Should Be Applauded

    Hoge, who like Warner earns his living now on TV as an NFL commentator, said on ESPN that Warner's words were "irresponsible and unacceptable. He has thrown the game that has been so good to him under the bus. He sounds extremely uneducated."
    I know this phrase is uttered throughout the civilized world, and with astonishing frequency, but I will state it here: Merrill Hoge could not be more wrong.

    Warner's concerned about the inherent dangers of the game, and Hoge thinks he sounds "irresponsible" and "extremely uneducated"???

    Where exactly did the responsible and educated Merrill Hoge get his degree in neurological medicine?
    "Before the gates of excellence the high gods have placed sweat; long is the road thereto and rough and steep at first; but when the heights are reached, then there is ease, though grievously hard in the winning." --- Hesiod

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    Re: Burwell: Warner's Honesty Should Be Applauded

    Quote Originally Posted by HUbison View Post
    I know this phrase is uttered throughout the civilized world, and with astonishing frequency, but I will state it here: Merrill Hoge could not be more wrong.

    Warner's concerned about the inherent dangers of the game, and Hoge thinks he sounds "irresponsible" and "extremely uneducated"???

    Where exactly did the responsible and educated Merrill Hoge get his degree in neurological medicine?
    Interesting that Hoge, who's career was cut short due to mutltiple concussions is so flippant on the issue. He and Amani Toomer think players like Warner should keep their opinions on concussions to themselves, which only serves to downplay the issue and IMO, is what's irresponsible.

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    Re: Burwell: Warner's Honesty Should Be Applauded

    Eh, I think we should just hold off on jumping to conclusions. It seems that especially when there's a suspicious death, people immediately look for something to blame it on. If it's a celebrity, they didn't kill themselves; the drugs did. If it's a football player, maybe it was the concussions that killed them. And if it turns out that he wasn't on drugs or concussions, well, how do we know that they couldn't cause someone to kill themselves like Junior Seau did? It really lowers the level of debate when we're all making our own assumptions rather than waiting for the evidence to come to light.

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    Re: Burwell: Warner's Honesty Should Be Applauded

    Quote Originally Posted by Goldenfleece View Post
    Eh, I think we should just hold off on jumping to conclusions. It seems that especially when there's a suspicious death, people immediately look for something to blame it on. If it's a celebrity, they didn't kill themselves; the drugs did. If it's a football player, maybe it was the concussions that killed them. And if it turns out that he wasn't on drugs or concussions, well, how do we know that they couldn't cause someone to kill themselves like Junior Seau did? It really lowers the level of debate when we're all making our own assumptions rather than waiting for the evidence to come to light.
    Fleece, I don't think anyone here is making the argument that concussions caused Seau to kill himself. Rather, the argument is whether Warner is within his right to be concerned about the inherent risks of professional football.

    I say he is. Merrill Hoge says he is not.
    "Before the gates of excellence the high gods have placed sweat; long is the road thereto and rough and steep at first; but when the heights are reached, then there is ease, though grievously hard in the winning." --- Hesiod

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    Re: Burwell: Warner's Honesty Should Be Applauded

    According to his ESPN bio, "Hoge is also extremely active in concussion research and in the prevention and treatment of brain injuries. In the fall of 2009, Hoge testified at a congressional hearing on head injuries in football, and, in January 2010, he was appointed to the NFL MTBI Committee, which initiates research and advises the NFL on best practices for concussion prevention and management. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell also asked Hoge in 2011 to serve on the NFL’s Return-to-Play Subcommittee which deals with head, neck and spine cases."

    Just something to keep in mind when considering Hoge's reaction to Warner's comments in this area. I don't think Warner's concerns were out of line, and my sense from having heard Hoge overreacted, but I can see where from Hoge's point of view, it's not productive to the dialogue to go on a national radio show and basically say, "Man, I dunno if the NFL is safe enough for me to let my kids pursue it," when you don't counterbalance those concerns with the work that the league and people surrounding the sport in general are doing to try and improve the safety of the game.
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    Re: Burwell: Warner's Honesty Should Be Applauded

    Quote Originally Posted by Nick View Post
    According to his ESPN bio, "Hoge is also extremely active in concussion research and in the prevention and treatment of brain injuries. In the fall of 2009, Hoge testified at a congressional hearing on head injuries in football, and, in January 2010, he was appointed to the NFL MTBI Committee, which initiates research and advises the NFL on best practices for concussion prevention and management. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell also asked Hoge in 2011 to serve on the NFL’s Return-to-Play Subcommittee which deals with head, neck and spine cases."

    Just something to keep in mind when considering Hoge's reaction to Warner's comments in this area. I don't think Warner's concerns were out of line, and my sense from having heard Hoge overreacted, but I can see where from Hoge's point of view, it's not productive to the dialogue to go on a national radio show and basically say, "Man, I dunno if the NFL is safe enough for me to let my kids pursue it," when you don't counterbalance those concerns with the work that the league and people surrounding the sport in general are doing to try and improve the safety of the game.
    All the more shocking that Hoge would want to put a tap on Warner's concern.
    "Before the gates of excellence the high gods have placed sweat; long is the road thereto and rough and steep at first; but when the heights are reached, then there is ease, though grievously hard in the winning." --- Hesiod

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    Re: Burwell: Warner's Honesty Should Be Applauded

    I'm still trying to figure out how Warner saying he has concerns about his kids playing football is "irresponsible and unacceptable" to Hoge. It's not like he said kids shouldn't play football, or that the violent nature of it caused Seau's death, he said he's "concerned" based on things that have happened. The recent actions of the NFL and the intensified research being done by the medical community lends creedence to that way of thinking.

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    Re: Burwell: Warner's Honesty Should Be Applauded

    I would say that an activity that carries a greater risk of concussions than football is questioning how another parent deals with his or her own children.

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