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Vikings special teamer has plan for Ramadan this time around

Two-a-day practices are grueling enough.  Starting on Wednesday, Vikings backup safety Husain Abdullah will have to get through without eating or drinking during the daytime because of Ramadan.

“I’ve been doing it since I was 7,” Abdullah told Chip Scoggins in an intriguing piece for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “To a Muslim, Ramadan
is what we wait for every year. The holy month of Ramadan, we love it.”

While Abdullah loves it, the Vikings believe it sapped the special teamer’s energy last year for a month.  So with the help of the team’s nutritionist, the organization came up with a better plan to help their player.

Abdullah will start each day at 5AM with a prayer and breakfast.  He’ll eat a huge dinner after dusk, and then wake up every morning at 2AM to down a protein shake that will help keep him going all day.

“Last year he was kind of shouldering it all by himself,” Childress said.

Inspired by Hakeem Olajuwon, who fasted during the NBA season, perhaps Abdullah and his brother Hamza of the Cardinals will inspire another generation of Muslim Americans.

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Bengals release LB Rey Maualuga

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The Bengals are the only NFL team Rey Maualuga has known.

That is about to change.

Cincinnati announced Saturday it has parted with its long-time linebacker. Maualuga, a second-round pick in 2009 out of USC, has spent his entire eight-year career with the club.

There were clues, however, there wouldn’t be a ninth.

The Bengals added former Cardinals linebacker Kevin Minter a week ago. Maualuga, 30, is coming off a season in which he started a career-low six of 14 games played. In all, he started 104 of 114 games for Cincinnati, racking up 580 tackles, four sacks, seven interceptions and six forced fumbles.

Maualuga also was entering the final season of a three-year contract. It featured a $3.15 million base salary and $300,000 workout bonus due in 2017.

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How can NFL reconcile loving Las Vegas and loathing betting lines?

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A mere four years ago, the NFL wanted nothing to do with staging any games in Las Vegas. Then, once Las Vegas emerged as a viable candidate to lure the Raiders from Oakland, the nation’s gambling capital suddenly became acceptable for at least 10 NFL games per year.

No one seems to be troubled (or even curious) by the about-face. Indeed, hardly anyone ever questions how and why it happened — especially since Commissioner Roger Goodell insists that the league can shift its attitude toward Las Vegas without shifting its attitude toward gambling.

“We’re obviously very sensitive to that, but we’re also going to evaluate the Raiders case on the relocation application in what’s in the overall best interests of the league,” Goodell told reporters in January. “But one thing we can’t ever do is compromise on the game. That’s one of the things we’ll do is to make sure the policies we’ve created, if we did in any way approve the Raiders, I don’t see us compromising on any of the policies.”

Compare that to this shrug of the shoulders from an unnamed AFC owner in comments made to Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com.

“From a gambling standpoint? That’s a joke to even say that’d be a problem,” the unnamed owner told Breer. “That was an issue decades ago. Now? Sports gambling is going to be legal. We might as well embrace it and become part of the solution, rather than fight it. It’s in everyone’s best interests for it to be above-board.”

And so it could be that, just as abruptly as the league pulled a 180 on Vegas, the league may abruptly flip its flop on gambling. Which could make it much harder for the league to continue to sue each and every state that tries to adopt betting on sports.

“We oppose further state-operated gambling on individual NFL games because it presents a threat to the integrity of those games and to the long-term relationship between the NFL and its fans,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in 2009, as the NFL fought to keep sports betting out of Delaware. “If you make it easier for people to gamble then more people will. This would increase the chances for people to question the integrity of the game. Those people who are upset will question whether an erroneous officiating call or dropped pass late in the game resulted from an honest mistake or an intentional act by a corrupt player or official.”

Those people who are upset will question whether an erroneous officiating call or dropped pass late in the game resulted from an honest mistake or an intentional act by a corrupt player or official.

The owners who will convene in Arizona this weekend should consider that quote and ask themselves that question, especially with more than 50 players eventually living in a place where gambling will be everywhere they go.

While putting a team in a place where gambling is legal is technically different than embracing gambling, “Las Vegas” and “gambling” are too synonymous to permit the average perception-is-reality fan to engage in the mental gymnastics necessary to tell the difference between the two. Which precisely why, as recently as 2013, the league shunned Vegas.

Even without the quote from the unnamed AFC owner, it was going to be very hard to remove the stigma of gambling from the dropping of a franchise into Las Vegas. That quote will make it damn near impossible — especially as more and more similar quotes are harvested on- and off-the-record as reporters descend on Arizona to (hopefully) ask pointed questions about how the NFL plans to walk the tightrope between loving Las Vegas and loathing betting lines.

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Bengals re-sign Wallace Gilberry

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The Bengals re-signed running back and special teams stalwart Cedric Peerman this week and he’s not the only member of the 2016 roster returning after hitting free agency.

Defensive lineman Wallace Gilberry’s agents announced that Gilberry will be back with the team in 2017.

Gilberry first joined the Bengals in 2012 and played in Cincinnati through the 2015 season before heading to the Lions as a free agent last year. He played four games for Detroit before going on injured reserve and then landed back with the Bengals in November after the Lions released him.

Gilberry had 10 tackles and 2.5 sacks in five games for the Bengals last year and he had 17.5 sacks during his first stint with the team. That production as a pass rusher should have him back as a reserve behind starting defensive ends Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson.

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Jonathan Stewart: “Open arms” to Panthers drafting a running back

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The Panthers and running back Jonathan Stewart agreed to a one-year contract extension this week, but that didn’t do much to quiet the notion that the Panthers will be adding a running back in the draft this year.

Stewart is 30 and entering his 10th season with the team, so the team needs to think about a future without Stewart on top of the need to have a complementary back to help the team put together the kind of running game that coach Ron Rivera felt was lacking last season. Given those realities, it wouldn’t matter much if Stewart was opposed to the team moving in that direction but the veteran is on board with a youthful infusion to the backfield.

“I mean, it’s a good thing,” Stewart said, via the team’s website. “You always want fresh legs. Fresh legs mean a lot, especially in the fourth quarter. Having somebody potentially come in here … there are a lot of good running backs in this draft class, a lot of talent. Definitely open arms to get somebody in here that wants to win and understands that. We’re better as a fist than we are as an open hand.”

Running back isn’t the only area that Carolina is expected to address at some point in the draft. Stewart pointed out that “the main thing we have to do better is protect” quarterback Cam Newton. A better running game would help accomplish that and boosting the performance on the offensive line should remain a priority for the team heading into the 2017 season.

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Maccagnan won’t rule out drafting another quarterback

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The Jets won’t rule in Josh McCown as the team’s next starting quarterback, and they won’t rule out adding another rookie.

A year after spending a second-round pick on a quarterback who wore the team’s uniform during a regular-season game last year as many times as I did, G.M. Mike Maccagnan said Friday that the team could “potentially”draft another one. Maccagnan added that doing so wouldn’t mean they erred in drafting Christian Hackenberg a year ago.

“I don’t think taking a player at one position is a referendum on another player,” Maccagnan said, via Ralph Vacchiano of SNY.com. “I think the goal is to put together [the] best roster you can. Of course quarterback is a very, very important position in this process. But I wouldn’t necessarily view it as a referendum.”

It’s smart for Maccagnan to keep his options open. All teams are listening to everything every coach or G.M. is saying. If Maccagnan narrows his draft focus before the draft begins, it’s harder to get the guys he wants.

“Our plan is to basically find the best group of quarterbacks we can,” Maccagnan said. “We’ve obviously made a move in pro free agency. There’s still the college draft. All options are on the table at the quarterback position with us going forward.”

That’s the way it should be. For a team that hasn’t had a true franchise quarterback since the only time the franchise won a Super Bowl, the search for the next one should continue until the next one finally is found. Whenever that may be.

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Dave Gettleman: Moving up eight spots in Kony Ealy trade is “gold”

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The Panthers traded defensive end Kony Ealy to the Patriots this offseason in a deal that wound up bumping them up eight spots in the draft order as they added a third-round pick to get a second-round pick back from New England.

For some, moving up eight spots in the draft may not seem like a big return for a player drafted in the second round of the 2014 draft. As you’d probably guess from the fact that the Panthers made the trade, their General Manager Dave Gettleman is not in that camp.

“It’s a heavy draft and it was an opportunity for us to move up,” Gettleman said, via the Charlotte Observer. “To you guys, eight spots doesn’t seem like much. But to me it’s gold. … We just wanted to move up and get another second-round pick. I think it gives us more flexibility.”

Ealy seemed like a breakout candidate coming off three sacks, an interception and forced fumble in Super Bowl 50, but the 2016 season didn’t play out that way as Ealy’s production remained inconsistent. He became expendable when the Panthers re-signed several other defensive ends and brought Julius Peppers back, which led to Gettleman taking a chance to improve another position by dispatching Ealy.

Whether that’s likelier with the 64th overall pick than the 72nd is debatable, but Gettleman will quiet any quibbling by hitting big in April.

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Joe Thomas asks the key question on Kaepernick

Plenty of people have plenty of opinions about the ongoing unemployment of quarterback Colin Kaepernick. One specific person’s opinion (more accurately, a question) caught my attention.

Browns tackle Joe Thomas had this to say in response to the item posted earlier today by MDS: “Most people can agree [Kaepernick’s] current unemployment is a combination of his anthem protest and his declining play, which is playing more into it?”

It’s a question raised earlier this week on PFT Live (the poll question appears below), and it gets to the heart of what’s happening with Kaepernick. If he were regarded as being as good as Tom Brady, Kaepernick already would be under contract; indeed, his 2014 contract with the 49ers never would have been restructured and he’d still be the starting quarterback there. (And Trent Baalke would still be the G.M. And Jim Tomsula or Chip Kelly would still be the head coach.) If Kaepernick were viewed as having no football abilities at all, the political aspects wouldn’t matter.

The problem seems to be that Kaepernick’s perceived skills currently fall into the gray area that prompts teams (owners, General Managers, coaches, whoever) to conclude that the baggage outweighs the bang. Otherwise, Kaepernick would have a job somewhere right now, either as the starting quarterback or at least in position to compete to be the starter.

The proof that he falls into the more-trouble-than-he’s-worth category comes from the manner in which Kaepernick was treated a year ago. Multiple teams were willing to trade for him, if he’d simply reduce the $12 million in fully-guaranteed base salary he was due to make in 2016. The Broncos, who steadfastly refuse to give up anything for Tony Romo now, were willing to trade for Kaepernick. The Brown reportedly were willing to cough up a third-round pick and to pay Kaepernick $7 million or $8 million for one year.

That interest came at a time when Kaepernick was recovering from not one nor two but three offseason surgeries. Surgeries that resulted in weight loss that kept him behind Blaine Gabbert for the first five games of the season.

So what has happened in the past year, other than Kaepernick embarking on a highly polarizing political position that landed his image on the cover of Time and his name on the lips of every NFL fan and millions of drive-by Super Bowl commercial watchers? Kaepernick started 11 games for a horrible team in a new offensive system, generating numbers that were far from horrible.

As a passer, Kaepernick completed nearly 60 percent of his passes, averaging 6.8 yards per attempt and throwing 16 touchdown passes against four interceptions. His passer rating was 90.7 — his highest such number since signing his long-term deal after the 2013 season.

As a runner, Kaepernick averaged 42.5 yards per game and 6.8 yards per attempt. Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor, the leading rusher among quarterbacks in 2016, averaged 38.6 yards per game, in 15 starts.

Speaking of Taylor, his numbers for the year were comparable to Kaepernick’s. Completion percentage: 61.7. Average per attempt: 6.9 yards. Passer rating: 89.7. Touchdowns to interceptions: 17 to 6. Average per rush: 6.1 yards.

Taylor emerged from the season with a two-year, $30.5 million contract to remain with the Bills despite an overhaul to the coaching staff. The Bills, with former Broncos offensive coordinator Rick Dennison now on board, presumably could have had Kaepernick for considerably less than that. And Dennison comes from one of the teams that was ready to trade for Kaepernick a year ago.

Which brings me back to the Browns. A year ago, they wanted him. Now, after a season with a two-win team in an offense new to him while recovering from three surgeries with numbers that compare to those generated by Tyrod Taylor (a guy in whom the Browns reportedly were interested), the Browns want nothing to do with Kaepernick.

There are two possible explanations for this. One, the Browns are being the Browns, again. Two, Browns ownership wants nothing to do with Kaepernick.

Given that the Browns wanted Kaepernick a year ago, and in light of how he performed a year ago, Door No. 2 is a fair response.

Beyond Cleveland, it’s fair to ask why other teams see nothing in a guy in whom multiple teams saw something a year ago. The Broncos don’t want him. The Jets don’t want him. The Texans apparently don’t want him. The Bills, who could have had him for less than Taylor, didn’t want him. The Bears, who are paying Mike Glennon $15 million per year (it’s still not clear whom they were bidding against), didn’t want him.

While Kaepernick may not currently be better than 20 starting quarterbacks in the NFL, he’s a better option for multiple teams than what they currently have. Which means that his ongoing unemployment absolutely, positively is more about politics than football.

So, Joe, there’s your answer. And if you hope to have a shot at finally getting to the postseason, maybe it’s time to start publicly pushing for Kaepernick as the alternative to Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan, anyone else available via free agency, or any of the rookies in the 2017 draft.

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Davis Webb says “double-digit” teams told him he’s a first-rounder

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When discussing the top quarterbacks in this year’s draft, attention has largely been focused on North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer and Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes.

Mahomes’ former backup in Lubbock says that he’s hearing there’s room for one more in that group. Davis Webb transferred to California for the 2016 season and put together a performance he says has impressed NFL scouts.

Webb held his pro day workout on Friday and said after it was over that he’s gotten a lot of positive feedback during his conversations with teams.

“I’ve talked to a lot of NFL people,” Webb said, via ESPN.com. “And double-digit teams have told me I’m a first-round guy. Every meeting I’ve had, they’ve said I’m one of the best quarterbacks on the board.”

That’s not where most members of the draft industry have pegged Webb coming off the board, but it wouldn’t be the first time that a projected second day pick wound up landing in the first round. Webb said he has 12-15 meetings and/or workouts scheduled with teams heading into the draft and the results of those will likely be a big factor in where he winds up coming off the board.

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Isaac Rochell drawing interest from Cowboys, Panthers

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A day after the Notre Dame Pro Day workout, former Irish defensive lineman Isaac Rochell paid a visit to PFT Live to discuss his pre-draft experiences.

As to the issue that always slides to the top of the stack in the weeks before the selection process, Rochell said he has attracted the most interest so far from the Cowboys and Panthers.

Dallas definitely needs defensive players, after a mass defection in free agency. A team captain as a senior, Rochell said he’s working on his pass rush as he gets ready for the next level. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com suggests that the best fit for Rochell could be defensive end in a 3-4 system — and that he could become a starter in the NFL if he can develop the right pass-rushing skills.

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All quiet on the Marshawn front

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Eight days ago, it seemed inevitable that running back Marshawn Lynch would emerge from retirement and land with the Raiders. At one point, there was a belief that things could come to a head before the conclusion of the weekend.

Since then, nothing has happened — but for a radio interview from his agent that left the door wide open for either possibility.

It’s unclear whether Marshawn decided to press pause on the situation, or whether complications have arisen regarding the manner in which Lynch and the Seahawks will disengage. Since he remains on the team’s reserve/retired list, the Seahawks can say to Lynch “play for us or play for no one.” They also can seek trade compensation from the Raiders, or the Seahawks can just release him.

While Seahawks management may be resisting the idea of Lynch waltzing to Oakland, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, apparently speaking on behalf of the locker room, has no objection to it.

“Well, [Marshawn’s] been talking about Oakland. He’s from the town, so that’s like going home for him,” Sherman said on ESPN. “It’d be like a basketball player growing up in L.A. and saying, ‘I’m going to play for the Lakers one day.’ It’s probably something he’s always wanted to do since he was a kid, so we’ve got no problem with that.”

The Raiders surely have no problem with that, for multiple reasons. Beyond needing a running back who can move the chains and/or the needle on the seismograph, they’ll need someone who can resonate locally through what could be one or two years of lame-duck status in Lynch’s hometown.

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With trial against NFL looming, Romo schedules fantasy football convention (again)

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Tony Romo may not be doing business in Dallas come September, but he plans to be making a little money there in July. And maybe in November.

Rumor’s National Fantasy Football Convention, scrapped in 2015 and 2016, will happen in Dallas from July 14 to 16. If, you know, it actually happens this time.

“Our main goal has always been to give the fans a chance to interact with the players during a truly unforgettable experience, and after 3 years of hard-work were unbelievably excited to see it all come together this summer in Dallas,” NFFC CEO Andy Alberth said in a statement. “We’re also excited about the impact the convention is going to have on local businesses and the overall economic benefit it will have on the city of Dallas.”

Originally scheduled for 2015 in Las Vegas, the NFL allegedly pressured players not to attend, based on the fact that it was due to happen at a facility owned by a casino (but not at a casino). The event moved to Los Angeles for 2016, but it ultimately was canceled, with Romo citing “blatant and continued interference” of the NFL.

Meanwhile, although litigation arising from the 2015 cancellation failed, the 2016 plug-pulling seems to be on track for a day in court. Public records show that a trial has been set for November 6 regarding claims filed by the NFFC against the NFL and Electronic Arts.

Electronic Arts, maker of the popular Madden video game series, allegedly withdrew as a sponsor of the event at the behest of the league.

Registration for the 2017 event opens on April 15 at GoNFFC.com.

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Adrian Peterson: I will play this year, it’s about the right fit

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Free agent running back Adrian Peterson says he remains unemployed not because he’s asking for too much money, and not because teams aren’t interested, but because he wants to find the right team for him, and that can take time.

Apparently annoyed by an ESPN report that he had turned teams off with an $8 million salary request, Peterson took to Twitter and said it’s not a financial issue.

“You can’t believe everything you read or hear people,” Peterson wrote. “The last thing I’m worried about is playing ball this coming season. That will happen! It’s not all about the money as everyone is speculating here lately. You’d think these analysts spoke to me directly. When you don’t know what’s going on people will say anything to create or make a story!”

Peterson said he’s eager to go to a Super Bowl contender.

“Finding the best fit and helping a team in a major way win a championship is my main objective! I’m in no rush,” Peterson wrote.

When that will happen remains to be seen, but Peterson’s comments suggest that he’d be fine with waiting until training camps open before he finds the right team. He’s committed to playing, but he’s not committed to finding his team right away.

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After losing two in one game, Eagles seek protection for long snappers

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Long snapping is a unique skill, and few NFL teams have more than one player who can do it well. So after the Eagles lost both their starting long snapper and their emergency backup long snapper in the same game last year, they’re seeking to expand protections for long snappers in 2017.

The Eagles have proposed a rule that would prevent the defensive team from hitting the long snapper until a full second after the snap. That would allow the long snapper to snap the ball and then put his head and hands up to protect himself before anyone can touch him.

The precise wording of the Eagles’ rule proposal is, “When a team is in scrimmage kick formation, a defensive player may not initiate contact with the snapper until one second has elapsed after the snap.” Breaking that rule would be considered unnecessary roughness, a 15-yard penalty and automatic first down.

During a December game, Philadelphia starting long snapper Jon Dorenbos suffered a season-ending wrist injury. That left Brent Celek as the emergency long snapper, but Celek got hurt during the game, too. Trey Burton then entered the game as the third-string long snapper and successfully snapped a ball to the holder on a field goal.

It was impressive that Burton could do that, but the Eagles would prefer not to have to rely on him again.

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Richard Sherman: Kaepernick’s unemployment not about football

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Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman thinks Colin Kaepernick’s inability to find a team is entirely about his national anthem protest.

“There was a year Matt Schaub had a pretty rough year and got signed the next year. So it has nothing to do with football,” Sherman said on ESPN. “You can see that. They signed guys who have had off years before.”

The idea that football has “nothing” to do with Kaepernick’s inability to find a job just doesn’t carry any water. If Sherman thinks Kaepernick’s unemployment is solely about the anthem protest, then how does Sherman explain the tepid interest in Kaepernick when the 49ers made him available for trade last year, before the anthem protest? Kaepernick has undeniably declined significantly as a player since he burst onto the scene as the 49ers’ starter in 2012. Over the last two seasons, Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert have shared time in San Francisco and played approximately equally well, and Gabbert hasn’t been able to find a job, either.

But it’s also undeniable that a lot of NFL owners, general managers and coaches are conservative people who disagree with Kaepernick’s protest. It’s certainly possible that some of those people would be willing to look past Kaepernick’s on-field struggles but aren’t willing to look past his anthem protest, or his off-field political advocacy.

Sherman thinks Kaepernick is still better than most starting quarterbacks in the league.

“You don’t have 32 starting-level quarterbacks in this league,” Sherman said. “You have about eight elites, and then you have the rest of the league. You have about eight, nine elite quarterbacks. You have two or three who have the potential to be elite. And then you have the rest of the teams. So he could play and start on a ton of teams in this league. He would be a starter on probably 20 of the teams in this league. But you’re telling me that you’re going to let other guys, you’re going to pick up some of these other guys and tell me that they’re starters?”

If Kaepernick were really better than 20 teams’ starting quarterbacks, it’s hard to believe not a single one of those teams would be willing to sign him. But Kaepernick is surely at least one of the 64 best quarterbacks in the NFL, which means he should at least be able to get a job as a backup. Yet he remains unemployed.

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Eagles owner speaks out against polarized political system

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At a time when most NFL figures steer clear of anything remotely political, one owner has spoken out against the current political system in general.

In a column posted at Time.com, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie urges an end to the intense polarization that currently infects all things political, with people clinging to positions and refusing to consider the possibility that their views should be softened, revised, or flat-out abandoned.

“What I have learned from football can be applied to society at large,” Lurie writes. “Just as we intensely game-plan against an opponent in sports, we need to game plan for the reality and consequences of polarization. Extreme polarization is the opponent — not each other. A football team is made up of players from a wide variety of backgrounds, experiences and political viewpoints. What unites them is grit, determination, and the desire to win. They join in a common goal and do what is necessary to transcend their differences for the greater good of their team.”

The American political system currently features those qualities, but only within the confines of the red state/blue state battle that constantly plays out on each and every issue. Lurie advocates unity for one specific cause: Solving the problem of autism.

“Imagine how we would benefit from understanding aspects of the autistic brain that can include rare mathematical, creative and other cognitive abilities that may well enhance our own brain power and human potential,” Lurie writes.

Whatever challenges we face as a society, it would be useful if people with different viewpoints would find a way to compromise and cooperate. The fact that an observation as innocuous and common sensical as that would be met with cries of “stick to sports!” demonstrates just how deeply divided we have become.

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