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Full text of Roger Goodell’s presentation at the Harvard School of Public Health

[Editor’s note:  On Thursday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke at the Harvard School of Public Health. The full text of his prepared remarks, as distributed by the NFL, appears below.]

Let me begin by thanking Dean Julio Frenk for inviting me to speak here today.  It is truly an honor to discuss two topics that I am passionate about: the game of football and its future.

The history of football is closely connected with the history of Harvard. Football has been played here with distinction since 1873. Professor Paul Weiler of Harvard Law School persuasively argues that the first college football game took place in Cambridge between Harvard and McGill University.

President Faust paid eloquent tribute to Harvard’s football legacy in a speech the night before last year’s Harvard-Yale game. She mentioned the university’s landmark innovations in the game – uniforms, a team doctor, a trainer, a kicking specialist. Harvard’s legacy includes eight national championships and 20 College Football Hall of Famers. Also the current starting quarterback of the Buffalo Bills – Ryan Fitzpatrick – and Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk – who last year won the Walter Payton Award as the NFL Man of the Year for his service on, and especially, off the field.

Football is embedded in your traditions, and your contributions have defined and changed how we play the game. We are proud of the connection. And we know that Harvard is proud of your team and players for their extraordinary accomplishments on the football field, in the classroom, and in life. From Harvard’s first African-American football captain, William Lewis in 1893, to Coach Murphy’s fine team this year, you have given so much to the sport we love. And good luck to the Crimson this Saturday in “The Game” against Yale, one of football’s grandest traditions.

Harvard and the NFL both stand for something else – leadership. Others in education, sports, and countless places beyond the playing fields look to us to influence their own decisions. We embrace our leadership position. And leadership means certain things, whether in sports, academia, or public health. It means thinking about the long term. It means listening and learning from people, including your critics or those who may be telling you what you don’t want to hear. It means facing up to your challenges and working tirelessly to make sure you make the right choices, for the right reasons, based on science and facts, not speculation.

So today, in this place of leadership, I want to speak about our role in protecting the health and safety of athletes – not just in the NFL and football, but in all sports and all levels of play. Our nation is experiencing a public health crisis fueled by growing levels of obesity, particularly in children. You understand the consequences and what needs to be done to reverse the trend. We know kids need to exercise – put simply, to play. And we know that whatever they play, they need to do it safely – with respect for the rules and other competitors, and in support of teamwork and sportsmanship.

Other than my family, my passion in life is football, and always has been. As a kid, it seemed like I was always either playing or thinking about football. The values I learned from the game are central to who I am. I learned about commitment, communication, sacrifice and determination. It was fun, exciting, and the ultimate team sport.

Thirty years ago, I joined the NFL as an intern in Commissioner Pete Rozelle’s office. I was Pete Rozelle’s driver at Super Bowl XX in New Orleans in 1986. I couldn’t believe my luck and couldn’t imagine a better job. It was the beginning of a dream I am still living. It has been, at times, a humbling journey.

I have been fortunate to preside over the National Football League for seven seasons now. As a league, we continue to achieve great success. A growing number of fans – more than one million a week – attend games at our stadiums. The 16 most-watched TV shows this fall are NFL games – that is, aside from the presidential debates. And they were almost a contact sport, too.

A recent Harris Poll indicated that the NFL’s popularity is rising, at an all-time high, and up 12 percent from just 10 years ago. The second most popular sport is college football. The interest is simply amazing – driven by the character of the game, the talent and hard work of our athletes, the dedication of coaches, and the passion of our fans.

I don’t need to tell you that our nation is sharply divided on many issues. But, as President Obama said just last week, “One of the big unifiers in this country is sports, and football in particular. You don’t go anyplace where folks don’t talk about football.”

Football connects generations. Many of us remember watching games with parents and grandparents. We’ve experienced the joy of introducing the game to our own children. It inspires us to rally around our players, teams, and cities. It brings together families, friends, and communities. And on a few occasions every year, it brings together the entire country.

Football has earned a vital place in the rhythm of American life. Nearly 6 million kids play flag or tackle football; another 1.1 million play in high school; and 75,000 play in college. For many reasons, I have never been more optimistic about football’s future or more confident about its place in our society. Optimistic, but not complacent.

The game of football is thriving. It is more compelling than ever. But it is also seen by some as a game at a crossroads. And not for the first time. We are well aware of social commentators who now question our future. And I am here to tell you: If we are at another crossroads, we have already taken the right path. We took it a long time ago, and our commitment to stay on it will not waver.

The risk of injury in football is well known. Throughout history, football has evolved; it has become safer and safer again. President Faust talked last year about eliminating the dangerous “flying wedge” in the college game more than a century ago. In recent years, there has been a much sharper focus on concussions in football and other sports. There are still unanswered questions, but scientists and doctors know more about concussions and their long-term potential effects than they did even a few years ago. The key issue for us is how we use this new understanding to make the game even safer and more exciting in the future.

I can say in no uncertain terms that this is our biggest challenge: Changing the culture in a way that reduces the injury risk to the maximum possible extent – especially the risk of head injury. We want players to enjoy long and prosperous careers and healthy lives off the field. So we focus relentlessly on player health and safety, while also keeping the game fun and unpredictable.

My most important job is to protect the integrity of the game – but it goes beyond that. It is also to protect the 1,800 professionals who choose to play and who make our game so great.

The responsibility to our players does not end when they hang up their uniform for the last time. The health and safety of former, current, and future players involves many facets, not just head injuries. It includes the quality of playing fields, the equipment players wear, rules to protect them from unnecessary risk, programs to support their lives off the field, and post-career benefits.

At one time spinal cord injuries were considered a greater risk than they are today. But after changes in rules and techniques, those injuries have been dramatically reduced. We also have addressed the impact of heat and hydration, better educating our medical staffs and players and supporting the outstanding work of the Korey Stringer Institute. Now we are devoting more resources to the well-being of players as they transition away from the game, including their mental health.

We more than accept this responsibility on total health and safety. We seek it; we pursue it; we honor it. We do it to make a difference in football, in all sports and, we hope, beyond.

I’m sure some of you have asked yourselves the same tough questions others ask: When there is risk associated with playing tackle football, why do people continue to play? And for parents, should I let my kids play tackle football?

These are valid, important questions. Answers can differ from person to person – and especially from parent to parent.

In trying to respond to these concerns, we have looked to the realities of football. We have established an open dialogue – speaking frankly and engaging our critics directly – so that we can improve the safety of football. Whether to play football or any contact sport is a highly personal choice for kids and parents. It must be a thoughtful, informed decision.

The simple truth is that any physical activity comes with risk and reward. Head injuries occur in sports. Earlier this month, many of the world’s top sports concussion experts convened in Zurich, Switzerland. It is the leading conference on concussion in sport. In attendance were experts from the International Olympic Committee, international soccer (or as they say “football”), rugby, equestrian competition, Australian Rules Football and many other sports, including the NFL. The chief medical officer of the international soccer federation noted that 300 million people around the world play soccer. Concussions are hardly an issue limited to football or the NFL.

The conference reached a thoughtful consensus on how to advance safety – teach proper techniques and fundamentals; educate coaches, parents and players about concussion recognition and management; eliminate unnecessary contact; and continue to research the unanswered questions surrounding concussions.  At the same time, these international experts recommended that sports be played actively, but safely, without regard to age. These few steps will make sports safer for all.

There is no question that there are tremendous benefits to playing team sports like football, whether it’s tackle, flag or touch football in the backyard – benefits such as physical fitness, self-discipline, friendships, leadership opportunities, self-esteem, college scholarships, and, most importantly, just plain fun.

Presidents from Dwight Eisenhower to John Kennedy to Gerald Ford played and loved football. Business leaders like Jeff Immelt and military leaders like General Ray Odierno learned important lessons from playing football. At West Point, the cadets are required to play a team sport because the experience is fundamental to leadership development.

Is playing tackle football worth the risk? For some, the answer may be no. But millions say yes. We emphatically say yes. And I pledge that the NFL will do everything in its power to minimize the risks and maximize the rewards of this great and increasingly global game.

The way I look at it: Football is always at a crossroads, facing challenges that require leaders to act with courage and purpose to secure and advance its future.

Let’s look back at one issue that involved Harvard more than a century ago, in 1905, before the NFL even existed. This was a time when football was extremely dangerous and violent. More than 150 college players suffered serious injuries and 18 players died in 1904 alone – – at a time when far fewer athletes played football.

Just think about that for a moment … 18 student-athletes died … in one season, primarily from skull fractures.

The nature of the game at that time led to widespread criticism. In 1903, The New York Times stated that football was trending toward “mayhem and homicide.” Some called for ending the sport, including Harvard President Charles Eliot.

The future of football was very much in doubt.

But a Harvard graduate, who happened to be the President of the United States, loved football. And Teddy Roosevelt came to football’s rescue.

He had not played football at Harvard, but he loved the game. He saw the merit in the lessons and principles that make football compelling. And in December of 1905, he brought the Big Three – Harvard, Yale and Princeton – to the White House. He convinced them that something had to change. President Roosevelt recognized that the game did not need to end. It needed to evolve.

As a result of President Roosevelt’s initiative, and the leadership of Harvard, key rules and the equipment of the game were changed and what became the NCAA was created. This led to modern football, one that included the forward pass, 10 yards for a first down, and the elimination of the flying wedge. These changes led to a more wide open, safer game.
Teddy Roosevelt helped transform a sport in trouble into something better – a game that has helped shape the lives and careers of generations of young men in so many positive ways.

In 1910, President Woodrow Wilson observed that the changes were working. “The new game of football seems far more enjoyable than the old one,” he said. “The new rules are doing much to bring football to a high level as a sport, for its brutal features are being done away with and better elements retained.”

So it was that a Harvard graduate and the university itself played a pivotal role in transforming football and paving the way to its future success.

The game has continued to evolve. Not long ago, the game allowed the head slap, tackling by the face mask, horse collar tackles, dangerous blocks, and hits to the head of defenseless receivers and quarterbacks. All of that has changed.

“The war against roughness in pro football is a continuing one,” said the NFL commissioner. That was Pete Rozelle in 1963.

“An Unfolding Tragedy.” That was a headline. The story said, “As football injuries mount, lawsuits increase and insurance rates soar, the game is headed toward a crisis, one that is epitomized by the helmet, which is both a barbarous weapon and inadequate protection.” It was a Sports Illustrated cover story in 1978.

Protecting the health and safety of players has included taking drug abuse and steroids out of the game. We have randomly tested year-round for steroids since 1990, the first league to do so, with immediate suspensions for any violations. Next we need to implement testing to make sure human growth hormone is out of the game. Performance enhancing drugs are dangerous. They also present unknown risk that may be seriously impacting an athlete’s health in ways he or she never considered. Some have suggested that there may be a link between performance enhancing drugs and concussions and brain disease.

Football has always evolved, and it always will. Make no mistake: change does not inhibit the game; it improves it.

It’s with Teddy Roosevelt in mind that we embrace today’s challenges. I learned a long time ago that you don’t do things because they are popular in the short term. You do them because they are right for the long term. And this is the right conversation to be having.

My commitment has been and will continue to be to change the culture of football to better protect players without changing the essence of what makes the game so popular.

It has been done. And it will be done.

As stewards of the game, it is our responsibility to promote a culture of safety. To be leaders. So let me share with you some specifics on how we are leading.


Leaders do not sit and wait for others to provide answers. We will continue to make rule changes, invest in innovative protective equipment, and provide our medical staffs the tools and authority to protect players on the field.

The rule in our league is simple and straightforward: Medical decisions override everything else. There has been attention this week on the fact that three NFL quarterbacks sustained concussions last Sunday. The positive development was that all three were taken out of the game as soon as they showed symptoms. The team medical staff then diagnosed a concussion, and each player was out of the game. That is progress. That is the way it should be in all sports at every level.

We know that our actions set an example. The concussion awareness material and training videos we developed with the Centers for Disease Control were used by the U.S. Olympic team this past summer. The United States military, NASCAR and college conferences have adopted our concussion protocols.

The Ivy League this year adopted rules similar to the ones in the new agreement with our NFL players, limiting contact in practices and emphasizing taking the head out of the game – as we have been doing.

High schools and colleges must take leadership roles as well with their coaches and athletes. An aggressive dialogue and educational efforts at all levels will raise awareness and change the culture to more strongly emphasize safety. We challenge everyone in sports to be agents of culture change. And we will learn from each other.

There is more to be done. And we will continue to lead by example.


Second, leaders base decisions on facts. We actively support independent and transparent medical research. Much of this focuses on the brain, sometimes called the last frontier of medicine and a public health issue that affects millions. Most of them do not even play sports.

We hope our focus on brain injury and the discoveries ahead will benefit the broader population. We recently committed $30 million to the National Institutes of Health for research on the brain. The agreement with our players sets aside an additional $100 million for similar medical research over the next decade. We have invested millions more in medical research through our charitable foundations, including at the Boston University Center for the Study of CTE. The center’s co-director, Dr. Robert Stern, is here today.

We may learn through breakthroughs in science that there are genetic or other factors that make certain individuals predisposed to concussions or brain disease. If an athlete has repeated concussions or takes longer to recover, it may signal a problem unique to that individual. Such individuals will benefit from advances in the science of concussion. They will be able to make more informed decisions about whether to accept the risk of playing a contact sport.

We support research into new helmet designs and have sponsored independent helmet testing to provide better information to players on helmet performance. One of the helmets our players wear was designed by a former Harvard quarterback, Vin Ferrara.

We may see a day when there are different helmets for different positions, based on which helmet can best protect players at their position.

As a sport that is on the national stage and under the spotlight, we are working to make a difference. Innovations in research today will improve safety in the sport tomorrow and for future generations in all sports.


Third, we are committed to strengthening our playing rules – and insisting on strict enforcement. Preserving the essence of the game, while reducing unnecessary risk, means we have to constantly reevaluate and refresh our rules reasonably and responsibly.

Strategy, strength and speed are what make the game great. We don’t want to take physical contact out of the game. But we must ensure that players follow rules designed to reduce the risk of injury. Enforcing rules on illegal hits to the head with fines and suspensions has changed tackling for the better. Players and coaches have adjusted. They always do. We now see fewer dangerous hits to the head and noticeable changes in the way the game is being played.

We continue to look for other ways to take the head out of the game. Two years ago we moved the kickoff line five yards forward to the 35. That reform yielded real benefits – a 40 percent reduction in concussions last year on kickoffs. College football then adopted our rule. Some think that the kickoff – the play with the highest injury rate – should be eliminated from the game or modified even further.

Here’s an idea I’ve heard from an NFL head coach: put a weight limit on players for kickoffs. Smaller players against smaller players would mean less severe collisions.

We will monitor the data on kickoffs, and all plays, with an open mind toward change.

Our Player Safety Panel, co-chaired by Hall of Famers Ronnie Lott and John Madden, has recommended that our Competition Committee carefully review the rules on all blocks below the waist. Protecting “defenseless” players started decades ago by banning the hitting of kickers. We now have nine separate categories of defenseless players in our rule book. All players can be defenseless in certain situations and we must address it comprehensively.

The right safety equipment is also crucial. Next year NFL players will be required to wear knee and thigh pads, as players are required to do at every other level of football. Many NFL players haven’t been wearing them. Getting them into the right equipment is part of changing the culture.

Technology is also helping us. Recent developments include new protocols, certified athletic trainers in press boxes to serve as spotters for team medical staffs, and the use of iPads and cell phones by medical staffs on the sidelines. We allow this technology for medical reasons, but not for competitive purposes.

We are testing accelerometers in helmets. They are sensors that determine the impact of a hit. We are also testing sensors in shoulder pads which could provide important information.

The most significant innovation may be the use of video by medical staffs on the sidelines to evaluate the mechanism of injury. We started it late last season and now use it for every game. It allows team doctors and trainers to more quickly understand and better treat an injury. Our team medical staffs are raving about it.


Fourth, we use our leadership position to advocate for safety in sports. We took a lead role in supporting the Zackery Lystedt Youth Concussion Law. It applies to all sports. It requires education for coaches, players, and parents, removal from games or practice for any school athlete who suffers a concussion, and clearance by a medical professional before the athlete can return to play. This law has now been passed by 40 states and the District of Columbia. Our goal is to secure approval in all 50 states. And I am confident that we will get there.

We are committed to the safety of young athletes, starting as soon as they step on the field. My twin daughters in middle school play lacrosse and soccer. Girls’ soccer has the second highest rate of concussions in youth sports. I am concerned for their safety. I want them to play, but I want them to play for coaches who know how to teach proper techniques and who are trained in the safety of their sport.

Ten years ago, we helped endow a non-profit organization called USA Football. With the CDC and other medical and football experts, USA Football created the only nationally accredited coaching course in the history of football. Tens of thousands of coaches have completed the course. Better certification and background checks of all coaches must be among the highest priorities for all youth sports.

USA Football has commissioned an injury study – research that the youth game has never seen. It also established a pilot program this year called “Heads Up Football.” This program invites parents to participate and delivers training and education for safer tackling, practice regimens modeled on the NFL, and a safety coach whose sole task is to monitor and ensure player safety in practices and games.

In fact, there is a critical need for more certified athletic trainers for youth and high school sports. According to the National Athletic Trainers Association, in 2010 only 42 percent of high schools had access to certified trainers who were trained in concussion care.

There is more we can do to make youth sports safer. And again, we stand ready to lead.


And finally, we know we can’t do it alone. To learn what needs to be learned and do what needs to be done, we need partners with expertise to make things happen.

We will continue to work with leading organizations to support independent research. One day we hope that will include the Harvard School of Public Health.

We have assembled an all-volunteer advisory panel of doctors, scientists, and thought leaders in brain injury from academia, sports medicine, engineering, the NIH, CDC, and Department of Defense. It includes some of our earlier critics. This group has four subcommittees and is directing discussion and research – ranging from long-term outcomes to education to making safer equipment. It includes another Harvard graduate and former Crimson football player, Dr. Mitch Berger. Dr. Robert Cantu, long respected in this area, is here today and he is an advisor to our committee.

We have eight other medical advisory committees within our league, comprised mostly of doctors plus other experts from inside and outside the league. These committees are overseen by a committee of owners chaired by an NFL owner who is also a physician, Dr. John York of the San Francisco 49ers.

Earlier this year, with the help of the Consumer Products Safety Commission, we launched a pilot program to replace helmets in underserved schools.

We need to be driven by facts and data, not perceptions and suppositions. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has done studies on NFL players. This summer NIOSH exploded a myth that has been circulating for years that the life expectancy of NFL players was 55 years of age. That caused many NFL players to make a bad decision to take their pension early at a much lower rate. NIOSH found that the true life expectancy of an NFL player is actually longer than the general population. There are real-life consequences when working off bad facts.

One of our most exciting and innovative new partnerships is with the Army, helping to change the culture in both organizations. Too often, bravery and commitment to the unit or team stand in the way of safety. In this new partnership, NFL players and service members are working together to put in place a culture of safety. It is helping players and soldiers identify the signs and symptoms of brain injuries, and empowering them to make better decisions. We are working cooperatively to make soldiers and athletes safer.

We are proud to be leaders in sports health and safety. Members of Congress, former critics, influential members of the news media, and others have praised our initiatives. But while we have worked hard throughout our history, the right road is never ending. Evolution, by nature, does not stop. Football will always continue to evolve.

The culture of the athlete is still too much of a play-through-it, rather than player safety mentality. Many players have publicly admitted to hiding concussions and other head injuries.

I was recently at dinner with family friends. Their 15-year-old daughter plays field hockey and told me how during a recent game she hit her head on the turf and blacked out for a moment. She didn’t tell anyone because she didn’t want to come out. The next day she was diagnosed with a concussion. It’s the warrior mentality – in a 15-year-old girl. This is unfortunate, but we are working with players, team doctors and coaches to change that culture. It is changing, but will take more time, resolve, patience, and determination.

Let me conclude with a question: What is our goal? I can answer in one simple word: Safety.

A safer game for all who play at every level of football. A safer game made even more exciting through thoughtful adjustments of the rules, next-generation equipment, pioneering research, and transparent partnerships with the best minds.

The road may be long and twisting. But I have no doubt we will reach our destination – a culture of safety for every sport so our world continues to be blessed by the vital and vibrant rewards that come uniquely from sports. For football, I can say with humility, resolve, and confidence: the best is yet to come.

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Mark Ingram: Black Saints players turned away from London nightclub

CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 17:  Mark Ingram #22 of the New Orleans Saints leaves the field due to an injury against the Carolina Panthers in the third quarter during the game at Bank of America Stadium on November 17, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Saints will play in London on October 1, and four Saints players are visiting the city now. But their trip hasn’t been entirely positive.

Saints running back Mark Ingram says he and teammates Vonn Bell, Sterling Moore and BW Webb had reservations for a table at the London nightclub Cirque Le Soir. But when they showed up, they were turned away and told they were “too urban.”

Ingram detailed the incident on Twitter and retweeted a follower who said that “too urban” means “too black,” as well as another follower who urged people to stop going to the “racist venue.” All four players are black, as are the two other men they were with.

Ingram added, however, that he has been treated well in London.

“Honestly everyone has been incredibly kind! This was the first and only incident! It’s not even close otherwise!” Ingram wrote.

Cirque Le Soir has not commented on the matter, which is receiving significant media attention in England.

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Eddie Lacy: Packers have been “very vocal” about wanting me back

GREEN BAY, WI - OCTOBER 16:  Eddie Lacy #27 of the Green Bay Packers looks to avoid the tackle attempt from Maliek Collins #96 of the Dallas Cowboys during the second quarter at Lambeau Field on October 16, 2016 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) Getty Images

Running back Eddie Lacy’s 2016 season came to an end after five games due to an ankle injury that required surgery and left him with limited recent results to use in a pitch to prospective suitors in free agency.

Lacy averaged 5.1 yards per carry in those five games, but the combination of his injury and concerns about his conditioning throughout the 2015 season don’t set him up for a major payday when the new league year gets underway. That may leave him in position to take a one-year deal in hopes of cashing in next year and staying in a familiar situation might work well on that front.

That appears to be a possibility based on what Lacy told Adam Schefter of ESPN on Schefter’s podcast.

“Talking to my agent, the Packers have been very vocal about having me back there,” Lacy said.

Lacy said his agent will have further talks with Green Bay during the Scouting Combine and that he’s focusing on getting healthy while those talks play out. Lacy said he “should be able to go out and do everything” when OTAs roll around later this year and we should have a good idea pretty soon where he’ll be reporting for work when that date comes.

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Ron Rivera on immigration discussion: “We can’t lock people out”

CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 13:  Head coach Ron Rivera of the Carolina Panthers watches on against the Kansas City Chiefs during their game at Bank of America Stadium on November 13, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Getty Images

Panthers coach Ron Rivera is by no means a crusader, actively working to keep the politics and the football separate in his locker room to avoid divisions.

But as one of the Hispanic pioneers in the NFL, he also understands he has a responsibility to serve as an example.

In a video interview with CNN, the two-time NFL coach of the year said he does feel a certain burden to lead, though his military background and career as a player has also instilled in him a certain sense of meritocracy as well. He said he sees the same struggle within quarterback Cam Newton, who has alternately embraced and shied away from his role as an example for the African American community, but certainly feels a pressure to succeed.

“I struggle with that because at the end of the day it should be about your merit,” Rivera said. “I feel that I have to succeed at the highest level I can, and I have done that. . . .

“What I take from this, and what I hope people take from this is you can be whatever you want, it’s up to you. You have to put in the work and do the things you’re supposed do, but at the end of the day all you need is an opportunity.”

Of course, the comments come at a time when immigration is a national discussion, and while Rivera has taken care to not take controversial stands, the suggestion of walls by President Donald Trump is something that strikes him as antithetical to the American experience.

“I think people have to understand, whatever the President is trying to do, whatever he’s trying to get across, it’s really not about what he’s saying, it’s about how we react and how we do things,” Rivera said. “There’s a group of people that are trying to make better lives for their families and that’s what it really should be about.

“I think what everybody have to understand, is that’s what America’s foundation is built on. We can’t lock people out because of that.”

Rivera was one of the first players of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent to play in the NFL, but he said he never felt any racism when he was playing professionally. He recalled the anger of being called a “wetback” by a college teammate at Cal, but said that wasn’t a factor when he was drafted by the Chicago Bears.

And while he walks a fine rhetorical line, he clearly isn’t comfortable with some of the policies being discussed today.

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Geno Smith: I’ve gotten better behind the scenes

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 23:  Brandon Williams #98 of the Baltimore Ravens sacks Geno Smith #7 of the New York Jets during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium on October 23, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) Getty Images

Quarterback Geno Smith got a chance to return to the Jets starting lineup during the 2016 season, but there wouldn’t be a storybook ending to his trip back up the depth chart.

Smith tore his ACL in the first half of an October start against the Ravens that marked his first turn with the first team since the 2014 season. That injury came after the broken jaw that opened the door for Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2015 and Smith says the extended time on the bench due to the injuries has served to obscure the progress he’s made as a player.

“Being injured for two years has kind of taken that away from me,” Smith said to Ian Rapoport of NFL Media. “My mistakes were shown on the field the first two years, and then me getting better has kind of been behind the scenes. The next time I step onto the field, it’ll be what they expect. People want to see you get better, they want to see you move past your mistakes. I’ve done that, just behind the scenes.”

Smith will be a free agent when the curtain rises on the new league year opens next week and said that his goal isn’t to be a backup. He added that he’s open to filling that role, which is probably a good thing for his employment chances as it’s unlikely any team will be guaranteeing a starting job to a player who has barely played over the last two seasons.

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Bucs tender Adam Humphries, three other exclusive rights free agents

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 18:  Adam Humphries #11 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers celebrates after catching a touchdown pass during the third quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on December 18, 2016 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

The only thing teams need to do to hold onto players designated as exclusive rights free agents is tender them a one-year contract offer and Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times reports the Buccaneers did that with four players on Monday.

Wide receiver Adam Humphries is a notable contributor on the list. He caught 55 passes for 622 yards in 2016 as one of the more prominent members of the passing game not named Mike Evans. Humphries caught 27 passes as an undrafted rookie in 2015 and has more catches than 27 of the wideouts that were drafted that year.

Nickel back Jude Adjei-Barimah was also a 2015 undrafted free agent signing and he’s another player who was tendered on Monday. Adjei-Barimeh played a regular role through the first 12 games of the season before a suspension brought his year to an early end.

Linebacker Adarius Glanton and wide receiver Freddie Martino were also tendered. Tight end Cameron Brate and defensive end Howard Jones are also set to be exclusive rights free agents, but have not been tendered at this point.

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Report: Kirk Cousins would accept a trade only to the 49ers

LANDOVER, MD - NOVEMBER 20: Quarterback Kirk Cousins #8 of the Washington Redskins celebrates after teammate running back Rob Kelley #32 (not pictured) scores a fourth quarter touchdown against the Green Bay Packers at FedExField on November 20, 2016 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) Getty Images

As Washington closes in on the deadline for deciding whether to apply the franchise tag for a second straight year to quarterback Kirk Cousins, the tag-and-trade option continues to percolate. If Washington goes that route, however, it won’t have many options.

John Keim of reports that Cousins would accept a trade only to the 49ers. It’s a match that flows clearly and obviously from the dot-connecting process sparked by former Washington offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s emergence as the presumed successor to Chip Kelly in San Francisco.

So why would Cousins be able to block a trade to any other team? While, in theory, any player under contract can be traded anywhere (absent a no-trade clause), no team is going to give Washington significant compensation for a one-year, $23.94 million deal that has no security for the new team beyond 2017. It therefore becomes critical for any trade talks to include contract negotiations, so that the team that acquires Cousins from Washington will have him under contract for multiple years.

The real question, as posed here last week, is whether Cousins would take less than $53 million fully guaranteed over the first two years as part of a long-term deal with the 49ers. That amount, which reflects the 2017 tag and a 20-percent transition-tag raid for 2018, is what he’s believed to want in Washington in order to do a long-term deal. It’s unknown whether he’d give the 49ers a new-hometown discount in order to facilitate a trade.

If Cousins won’t take less, would the 49ers plunk down that much plus send one or more draft picks to Washington to get a quarterback who will be able to run the Shanahan offense? It’s an issue that will be resolved, if anywhere, this week in Indianapolis as all teams gather there for the Scouting Combine.

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Tuesday morning one-liners

FILE - In this Oct. 9, 2016, file photo, Cleveland Browns' Joe Thomas (73) looks to block New England Patriots' Jamie Collins (91) during the first half of an NFL football game in Cleveland. Thomas, a nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle, expressed his strong desire to remain with the team, rather than be traded to a contender. Thomas' name has been floated around the league in advance of the trade deadline on Nov. 1. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane, File) AP

CB Corey White is one of the Bills heading for free agency.

Would the Dolphins make a play for LB Dont’a Hightower in free agency?

The Patriots found their new tight ends coach.

Does Nick Mangold’s departure from the Jets set the stage for further veteran cuts?

S Matt Elam was a busted first-round pick, but probably not the one that hurt the Ravens the most on the field.

Bengals special teams coach Darrin Simmons likes the idea of sticking with K Randy Bullock.

Browns T Joe Thomas doesn’t have the most pleasant memories of the Scouting Combine.

The Steelers invested in a pair of offensive stars on Monday.

Texans DT D.J. Reader is easing into his first NFL offseason.

Which free agents will the Colts retain this offseason?

Mike Mayock of NFL Media thinks the Jaguars will get a difference-maker with the fourth pick.

Will the Titans draft more offensive line help?

Some caution about the Broncos drafting an offensive lineman in the first round.

A look at how the draft shapes up for the Chiefs.

Reviewing the work of the Raiders’ 2016 rookie class.

The Chargers didn’t want to go to Los Angeles without LB Melvin Ingram.

Any move for a backup quarterback will have to wait until the Cowboys deal with Tony Romo.

Former Giants RB Rashad Jennings may be wearing dancing shoes in the near future.

Considering the possibility of an Eagles run at WR Alshon Jeffery.

Will the Redskins find themselves without an option other than trading QB Kirk Cousins?

The way they use the third overall pick will reveal what kind of team the Bears want to be.

Is Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey a potential Lions draft pick?

It’s not easy to predict the free agent market for Packers DB Micah Hyde.

Vikings WR Adam Thielen is a frequent visitor to the gym as well as a part-owner.

A call for the Falcons to draft for help on the offensive and defensive lines.

There’s no expectation that the Panthers will be rescinding DT Kawann Short’s franchise tag.

Will S Jairus Byrd remain with the Saints?

Buccaneers CB Brent Grimes hit playing time incentives.

David Johnson could have new company in the Cardinals backfield.

Getting to know a bit about Rams tight ends coach Shane Waldron.

The 49ers will be looking for plenty of help at the Scouting Combine.

Offensive tackle remains a position of need for the Seahawks.

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Dolphins owner putting 16 players through “business combine” this week

MIAMI - DECEMBER 19:  Stephen Ross owner of the Miami Dolphins poses for a photo before his team plays against the Buffalo Bills at Sun Life Stadium on December 19, 2010 in Miami, Florida. The Bills defeated the Dolphins 17-14.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images) Getty Images

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross wants to help his players succeed in the future. But he also thinks his latest venture could help the team in the present.

Via Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, Ross is hosting 16 of his players for a “business combine” this week in New York to give them some insight into future opportunities beyond their playing days.

The players ranged from quarterback Ryan Tannehill and defensive end Cameron Wake to fringe players and free agents. Ross connected the players with area business leaders, put them in meetings and took them out of the office to explore real estate and other opportunities. Six players signed up for last year’s version.

“This is really to give them an insight into what business is about,” Ross said. “I mean, don’t forget, these guys have concentrated their college and their professional football careers into becoming better football players and have been kind of shielded a little bit from the business world.

“This is really to create them and develop them so that when they do make the transition out of football they’re better prepared. I think every owner should have the responsibility of developing them not only as football players but also after their careers and as people. That way it’s better for them, it’s better for the team, it’s great to see these guys that are so passionate for what they do and the capabilities they have, how they use it to start the next level.”

Ross said he thought getting a group of players together outside the football function could help with camaraderie and relationships, and having his quarterback and defensive leader on board will help in that regard. Players are paying their own way, since Ross picking up the bill would circumvent the salary cap.

“Well, I mean, and with what the team is doing, it kind of brings them together,” Ross said. “And, you know, I think they experience these type of things together, they become closer together and they realize what the organization does and they’re more committed to the Miami Dolphins.

“And certainly, I think, when other players outside when they’re looking to see what teams they’d like to play for, it doesn’t hurt. Because the word spreads. When I was speaking yesterday [at a business conference for NFL players in Ann Arbor] and the amount of players that came up to me and we spoke. Because I was there speaking, I think they really appreciate it.”

More players should take advantage of such opportunities to parlay their football money into a future beyond their playing days. And Ross is right, there should be a responsibility for owners to put them in such positions, after profiting handsomely from their athletic gifts during the short time players can trade on those.

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Jason Pierre-Paul “nowhere near a deal” with Giants

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 06:  Jason Pierre-Paul #90 of the New York Giants reacts after a play against the Philadelphia Eagles during the first half of the game at MetLife Stadium on November 6, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Giants announced on Monday that they’ve used the franchise tag on defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul for the second time in three years, something that sets Pierre-Paul up to make around $17 million for the 2017 season.

That would be a big chunk of the Giants’ cap and it’s thought the team would like to get a longer deal done in order to lower Pierre-Paul’s cap number and have more flexibility to make other moves. Pierre-Paul has expressed his displeasure with the notion of playing out the year on a one-year deal, so he’s on board with a longer contract but his agent Doug Hendrickson said a lot of work is needed to get to that point.

“Obviously we’re talking, but nowhere near a deal,” Hendrickson said, via the New York Post.

Hendrickson didn’t delve into where the differences lie in negotiations and said that the two sides will be talking again in Indianapolis in the coming days. If things move quickly in those conversations, the Giants may be able to start free agency without Pierre-Paul eating up a healthy chunk of the money they have available for this year.

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Jaguars sign former CFL offensive lineman

DENVER, CO - AUGUST 07:  Guard Greg Van Roten #62 of the Seattle Seahawks blocks against the Denver Broncos during preseason action at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on August 7, 2014 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Jaguars are clearly reworking their offensive line this offseason, and they’re willing to look beyond our borders to do it.

Via Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union, the Jaguars signed journeyman offensive lineman Greg Van Roten.

Van Roten played in 10 NFL games with the Packers in 2012 and 2013 and was with the Seahawks during the preseason in 2014. He was out of football after being cut there, but spent the last two seasons in Canada

He was named the Toronto Argonauts’ most outstanding lineman during both his seasons there, and former Argos head coach Scott Milanovich is coaching quarterbacks in Jacksonville now, so he must have put a good word in for him.

The Jaguars declined a contract option on left tackle Kelvin Beachum, and are allowing former No. 2 overall pick Luke Joeckel to become a free agent. They’ve set up a trade with Miami for left tackle Branden Albert, which can’t become official until March 9.

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Tony Dorsett: “More bad than good” in CTE fight

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL - MARCH 01: Tony Dorsett of the Dallas Cowboys throws out the first pitch at a spring training game between the Atlants Brave and the Philadelphia Phillies at Champion Stadium on March 1, 2009 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) Getty Images

Tony Dorsett was in Dallas last weekend to celebrate football history, but he also offered a reminder he might not remember all of it.

Via Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dorsett admitted he struggles at times. He was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in 2013, and said during an anniversary celebration for the Cowboys 1992 Super Bowl champions that he’s dealing with the daily ups and downs.

“I’m fighting CTE,” Dorsett said. “I have good days and I have bad days. The unfortunate thing sometimes is I have more bad than good. It is what it is. I’m trying to maintain and handle it.”

Dorsett has said he has problems with long- and short-term memory because of the disease, and bouts of anger.

The 62-year-old Hall of Famer has been upfront about his condition, willing to talk about the issue of head injuries for years since his diagnosis. While he has said in the past he’d be willing to let his son play football, he’s also pointed out that he would be far more cognizant of the health risks involved in the sport, which he wasn’t when he was playing.

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NFL plans to put chips in all footballs, but not for officiating

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 14:  Lavonte David #54 and Orie Lemon #45 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers knock the ball loose from Jonathan Stewart #28 of the Carolina Panthers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on December 14, 2014 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Carolina won 19-17.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) Getty Images

The NFL plans to put microchips in every football during the 2017 season, but the chips will not be used to help the officials.

Instead, Daniel Kaplan of Sports Business Journal reports, the chips will be used as part of the NFL’s “Next Gen Stats,” which track player performance.

The league already puts chips on every player’s shoulder pads for the Next Gen Stats, and having chips in footballs as well will allow teams to track everything from how fast a quarterback throws a football to how well a defensive back moves toward the ball while it’s in the air. Next Gen Stats are closely guarded secrets, with only a tiny portion of them ever becoming public.

The NFL has previously put chips in kicking balls to determine how significant the change would be if the goal posts were narrowed. There’s long been a movement to put chips in footballs to help determine when a ball crosses the goal line, but logistical challenges have prevented that from happening.

Falcons President Rich McKay, the chairman of the competition committee, says the full scope of the way the data from chips in footballs will be used won’t be known until after the season. But it will be a significant amount of data that the league has never had before.

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Report: Chargers to add LaDainian Tomlinson to front office

HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 04:  Running back LaDainian Tomlinson introduced as part of the  Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2017 during the NFL Honors at the Wortham Theater Center on February 4, 2017 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) Getty Images

New Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson is getting a new job.

Tomlinson will be taking a position in the Los Angeles’ Chargers front office, Fred Roggin of NBC Los Angeles reports.

There’s no word on whether this job will be ceremonial in nature and focused mostly on public relations, or whether he’ll have some say in the football operation. The latter would seem unlikely as Tomlinson hasn’t always been on the same page as the Chargers, including saying last year that he thought they should trade Philip Rivers.

Tomlinson also has a job on NFL Network, where he’s already based in Los Angeles.

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Report: Colts defensive tackle David Parry arrested

ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 29: David Parry #54 of the Indianapolis Colts blocks against the St. Louis Rams in the second quarter during a preseason game at the Edward Jones Dome on August 29, 2014 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) Getty Images

Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle David Parry was arrested early Saturday morning in Scottsdale, Ariz. on suspicion of robbery, auto theft, criminal damage, resisting arrest and driving under the influence, via a report from Holly V. Hays of the Indianapolis Star.

Parry, a fifth-round pick of the Colts in 2015, allegedly hit a man on the head before stealing his street-legal golf cart. Police found Parry on the sidewalk, apparently intoxicated, after he crashed the cart into a gate. The alleged victim was using his cart as a taxi to take people home from a bar when Parry allegedly hit him and stole the vehicle. He was arrested around 2:30 a.m. on Saturday.

Parry has started every game for the Colts over the last two seasons. He’s amassed 78 tackles and four sacks over that span.

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Inside the Antonio Brown deal

KANSAS CITY, MP - JANUARY 15:  Wide receiver Antonio Brown #84 of the Pittsburgh Steelers reacts against the Kansas City Chiefs during the first half in the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 15, 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) Getty Images

Business is booming indeed.

After patiently waiting until he entered the final year of his contract, which is when the Steelers will extend non-quarterback deals with one year left, Steelers receiver Antonio Brown cashed in on Monday, in a big way.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, here’s the breakdown:

1. Signing bonus: $19 million.

2. 2017 salary: $910,000.

3. 2018 roster bonus: $6 million due on the fifth day of the league year.

4. 2018 salary: $7.875 million.

5. 2019 roster bonus: $2.5 million due on the fifth day of the league year.

6. 2019 salary: $12.625 million.

7. 2020 salary: $11.3 million.

8. 2021 salary: $12.5 million.

The Steelers and Brown had been working diligently to get the deal done, with three different trips to Pittsburgh over the past three weeks by agents Drew and Jason Rosenhaus, along with negotiations during Senior Bowl week.

Despite the Facebook Live fiasco and leaks to the media that seemed to trace directly to the team, the Steelers have rewarded Brown for his past services and provided him with the ability to make plenty of money over the next five seasons, with a $17 million average over the four new years, good for a new-money average of $17 million. (Counting the $4.71 million he was due to earn in 2017, the five-year average at signing is $14.54 million. Reasonable minds differ on whether new money or total value is the proper metric; the fact remains that it’s the biggest new-money average for a receiver in league history.)

Brown will have $29 million in new money through 2018, $44.2 million through 2019, and $55.5 million through 2020. The practical guarantee at signing is $19.910 million, along with either $13.875 million more in 2018 (total of $33.875 through two years) or a quick path to the open market if they choose not to pick up his roster bonus next year. He’ll add another $15.125 in 2019 — or he’ll get an early trip to the market if the Steelers opt not to pay the $2.5 million roster bonus.

The cap numbers generated by the new deal are $4.710 million in 2017, $17.675 million in 2018, $18.925 million in 2019, $15.1 million in 2020, and $15.8 million in 2021. Coupled with prior prorations, Brown’s total cap number for 2017 remains at $13.618 million.

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