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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.

(Leadership)

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.

(Research)

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.

(Rules)

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.

(Advocacy)

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.

(Partnerships)

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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Josh McCown expected to miss several games with thumb injury

joshmccown Getty Images

A bad start to the season for Buccaneers quarterback Josh McCown is getting worse.

The thumb injury McCown suffered in Thursday night’s loss in Atlanta is likely to force McCown to miss “several weeks,” a source told Alex Marvez of FOX Sports.

That would mean Mike Glennon, the 2013 third-round pick who became the starter during his rookie year, will start. Glennon showed some promise during his rookie season, but the new regime in Tampa obviously didn’t think he was ready to start, because the Bucs gave McCown a two-year, $10 million contract this offseason to become the starter.

Unfortunately, McCown hasn’t done much with the starting job: After throwing just one interception in 224 passes last season, McCown has thrown four interceptions in just 68 passes this season. Although Bucs coach Lovie Smith has insisted that McCown is the starter when healthy, Glennon will get an opportunity to show he deserves to keep the starting job.

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Week Three skill position injury report — Friday

Arian Foster AP

Here’s a rundown of skill position players in Sunday games listed on the Week Three injury report. Inactives are declared 90 minutes before game time:

OUT

Giants WR Odell Beckham (hamstring).

Washington QB Robert Griffin III (ankle).

Saints RB Mark Ingram (hand).

Bengals WR Marvin Jones (foot).

Jaguars WR Marqise Lee (hamstring).

Saints RB Erik Lorig (ankle).

Chargers RB Ryan Mathews (knee).

Dolphins RB Knowshon Moreno (elbow).

Washington TE Jordan Reed (hamstring).

Bengals TE Alex Smith (biceps).

Browns RB Ben Tate (knee).

Chiefs RB/WR De’Anthony Thomas (hamstring).

DOUBTFUL

Steelers RB Dri Archer (ankle).

Bengals RB Rex Burkhead (knee).

Eagles WR Josh Huff (shoulder).

Lions RB Montell Owens (hamstring).

Panthers RB Fozzy Whittaker (thigh).

QUESTIONABLE

Chargers WR Keenan Allen (groin).

Rams WR Tavon Austin (knee).

Panthers WR Jason Avant (thigh).

Cowboys WR Dez Bryant (shoulder).

Browns TE Jordan Cameron (shoulder).

Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles (ankle).

Dolphins TE Charles Clay (knee).

Panthers WR Jerricho Cotchery (thigh).

49ers TE Vernon Davis (ankle, knee).

Cowboys TE Gavin Escobar (knee).

Washington PK Kai Forbath (right groin).

Texans RB Arian Foster (hamstring).

Chiefs RB Cyrus Gray (foot).

Jaguars TE Clay Harbor (calf).

Rams TE Cory Harkey (knee).

Rams QB Shaun Hill (thigh).

Cardinals TE Rob Housler (hip).

Washington WR DeSean Jackson (shoulder).

Raiders RB Maurice Jones-Drew (hand).

49ers TE Vance McDonald (knee).

Colts WR Hakeem Nicks (illness).

Cardinals QB Carson Palmer (right shoulder).

Ravens RB Bernard Pierce (thigh).

Cowboys RB Joseph Randle (concussion).

Vikings WR Rodney Smith (hamstring).

Raiders WR Rod Streater (hip).

Patriots RB Shane Vereen (shoulder).

Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams (thigh).

PROBABLE

Lions RB Joique Bell (knee).

Panthers WR Kelvin Benjamin (knee).

Browns WR Travis Benjamin (knee).

Panthers WR Corey Brown (ankle).

Steelers WR Martavis Bryant (shoulder).

Cardinals RB Andre Ellington (foot).

Eagles TE Zach Ertz (knee).

Texans TE C.J. Fiedorowicz (foot).

Ravens QB Joe Flacco (illness).

Chargers TE Antonio Gates (hamstring).

Jaguars RB Toby Gerhart (foot).

Texans TE Garrett Graham (ankle).

Bengals WR A.J. Green (toe).

Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski (knee).

Seahawks TE Cooper Helfet (knee).

Washington RB Roy Helu (quadricep).

Colts WR T.Y. Hilton (groin).

Jaguars WR Allen Hurns (ankle).

49ers RB Carlos Hyde (calf).

Texans WR Andre Johnson (ankle).

Jaguars RB Storm Johnson (ankle).

49ers QB Colin Kaepernick (back).

Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch (back).

Titans RB Dexter McCluster (foot).

Broncos PK Brandon McManus (right groin).

Seahawks RB Christine Michael (hamstring).

Steelers TE Heath Miller (not injury related).

Seahawks TE Zach Miller (ankle).

Steelers WR Lance Moore (groin).

Saints WR Joe Morgan (knee).

Panthers TE Greg Olsen (calf).

Vikings WR Cordarrelle Patterson (chest).

Cowboys QB Tony Romo (back).

Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph (abdomen).

Jaguars WR Cecil Shorts (hamstring).

Eagles WR Brad Smith (groin).

Panthers RB Mike Tolbert (chest).

Bills WR Sammy Watkins (ribs).

Titans QB Charlie Whitehurst (right finger).

Bills WR Robert Woods (ankle).

Washington RB Darrel Young (neck).

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Bruschi says it’s time for a new Commissioner

Goodell AP

So how is Commissioner Roger Goodell’s Friday press conference being received?  Based on a couple of former players who currently work for ESPN, not too good.

On ESPN, Mark Schlereth and Tedy Bruschi made some strong comments in response to Goodell’s remarks.  Bruschi’s remarks were particularly pointed, and strong.

We needed someone to go up there and be a leader,” Bruschi said.  “To be a leader and say something substantial.  To give all of the public out there, all of the fans, all of the former players, all of the current players.  To give them hope that things will be done right, and that wasn’t done because I don’t think Roger Goodell is the guy that can do that anymore.”

Bruschi then was reminded that Goodell has said he hasn’t considered resigning.

“Fixing a mistake is one thing, but he can’t escape this,” Bruschi said.  “He can’t escape this.  Because the NFL, a big thing about them also is image.  How the NFL is portrayed.  And as long as Roger Goodell is leading the NFL and he’s the face behind the shield, you will have the same emotions you had today, watching that press conference, listening to him speak in circles, wondering, ‘Man, what is this guy talking about?’  So as you continue and move forward and Roger Goodell is the Commissioner, you will continue to feel that way every time you see him.

“In my opinion, in my personal opinion, being a former player that spent 13 years in this league trying to do the right thing, I want a new Commissioner to lead my league.  I want a new Commissioner to go out there and say the right things and be that leader, because right now, Roger Goodell is not that.  And I don’t think he can ever be that.  Roger Goodell needs to step down and move on, and we need new leadership.  The big reset button needs to be pressed on the NFL right now, and it starts by Roger Goodell stepping down.”

That won’t happen until owners begin to share Bruschi’s feelings.  Currently, there’s no indication that any do.  After Friday’s events, from a heavily criticized press conference to another bombshell report from ESPN suggesting a full-blown coverup, who knows where this thing is heading?

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ESPN stands by its Ravens report

Rice Getty Images

The Ravens contend that ESPN’s very thorough, heavily detailed, and thoroughly troubling report regarding the Ravens’ mishandling of the Ray Rice investigation contains “numerous errors, inaccuracies, false assumptions and, perhaps, misunderstandings.”  But the Ravens haven’t identified any “errors, inaccuracies, false assumptions and, perhaps, misunderstandings.”

Regardless, ESPN isn’t flinching.

“We stand by our reporting,” an ESPN spokesman told PFT on Friday night.

Considering that ESPN once canceled the popular Playmakers series under overt and express pressure from former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, it’s safe to assume ESPN dotted all i’s and crossed all t’s before loading the cannon and aiming it at the Ravens and, as a practical matter, the league office.  The fact that ESPN and the NFL have a multi-billion-dollar broadcast partnership makes the report inherently more credible.

Put simply, ESPN isn’t going to swing and miss on something this important when it potentially undermines such an important relationship.

Meanwhile, the Ravens seem to be flailing.  If they dispute any, some, or all of the facts contained in the report, they should say so.  Surely, they know whether each and every allegation or statement on such an important and persistent issue is true.  Addressing the alleged “errors, inaccuracies, false assumptions and, perhaps, misunderstandings” should be simple.

Under the circumstances, it’s definitely necessary.

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ESPN reports makes it clear Cass knew contents of video

Cass Getty Images

The excellent ESPN report regarding the Ravens’ mishandling of the Ray Rice investigation paints a troubling picture regarding the role of the team’s president in the investigation and, perhaps more accurately, the coverup of its details.

According to Don Van Natta, Jr. and Kevin Van Valkenburg of ESPN, Ravens president Dick Cass learned in early April that the contents of the video from inside the elevator were deeply troubling.  Specifically, lawyer Michael Diamondstein told Cass that the video is “f–king horrible,” and that Rice “knocked her the f–k out.”

Per the report, Cass began urging Diamondstein to get Rice accepted into a pretrial intervention program.  Among the benefits Cass reportedly articulated to Diamondstein was the fact that the video of the incident would not be made public.

The Ravens repeatedly have criticized the prosecution for allowing Rice to enter into the intervention program based on such heinous conduct.  But the report from Van Natta and Van Valkenburg contends that prosecutors initially rejected the intervention program.  Only after Diamondstein produced nearly 30 letters of support (including one from Cass, G.M. Ozzie Newsom, and coach John Harbaugh) did the prosecution agree.

The Ravens contend that the ESPN report contains “numerous errors, inaccuracies, false assumptions and, perhaps, misunderstandings,” but the Ravens have identified none of them yet.  Apparently, the list alleged errors, inaccuracies, false assumptions, and perhaps misunderstanding is coming next week, after their game against the Browns.

Sorry, but that’s not nearly good enough.  One of the league’s billion-dollar network partners has pinned on the Ravens and the NFL a report that, if accurate, should result in the termination of the employment of Cass, Newsome, and perhaps even Harbaugh.  Likewise, real questions should be raised about Steve Bisciotti’s fitness to own the team, if the report is accurate and if he had any knowledge of the coverup.  (Or perhaps even if he didn’t.)

And while some would say the report pulls the spotlight away from the NFL and puts it on the Ravens, the ESPN report makes the NFL’s complete failure to seek the video of the incident even more suspicious.  If the report is accurate, the Ravens and the NFL didn’t get the tape perhaps because they didn’t want to see it.

Which could make that bombshell report from the Associated Press even more plausible, and troubling.  Perhaps someone at the league office saw the tape, but that person knew the Commissioner didn’t want to see it — because that person knew the Commissioner wanted to find a way to give Rice the benefit of the doubt, and to be able to say he didn’t see the tape.

Regardless, Friday’s mediocre-at-best press conference performance coupled with the ESPN report means that Goodell remains in jeopardy of losing his job.   The information developed by the supposedly independent investigation and generated by the Ray Rice appeal process could cement that outcome, if the ESPN report is accurate.

 

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Ravens: ESPN story contains “numerous errors, inaccuracies”

Baltimore Ravens v Cincinnati Bengals Getty Images

The Ravens have responded to ESPN’s Friday report on the club’s decision-making after Ray Rice’s February arrest with a short statement claiming the piece contains “numerous” mistakes.

The team plans to talk in greater detail about the story next week, it said.

“The ESPN.com ‘Outside the Lines’ article contains numerous errors, inaccuracies, false assumptions and, perhaps, misunderstandings,” the club said Friday night. “The Ravens will address all of these next week in Baltimore after our trip to Cleveland for Sunday’s game against the Browns.”

While the club may not plan to further address the story until next week, it’s a certainty head coach John Harbaugh will be asked about it after Sunday’s game at Cleveland. Also, Kevin Byrne, the club’s senior V.P. of public and community relations, is slated to meet the press at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday in connection with the team’s Rice jersey exchange.

UPDATE 10:33 p.m. ET: “We stand by our reporting,” ESPN spokesperson Josh Krulewitz told PFT on Friday night.

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Report: Goodell soon expressed misgivings about Rice’s two-game ban

Roger Goodell AP

Among the many revelations in ESPN’s investigation of the decisions made by the NFL and Baltimore Ravens after Ray Rice’s arrest in February was that league commissioner Roger Goodell reportedly soon had second thoughts about handing down just a two-game suspension of Rice.

The ESPN report claims that “within days” of Rice’s initial ban on July 24, Goodell told someone close to him that “he wasn’t sure he had done the right thing,” wrote reporters Don Van Natta Jr. and Kevin Van Valkenburg, citing two unnamed sources. The report also said Goodell seemed to indicate he had been persuaded not to give Rice a harsher punishment — and that the commissioner “regretted” this, wrote Van Natta Jr. and Van Valkenburg.

Goodell would later change course on Rice, publicly saying in late August he erred in handing down the two-game suspension when unveiling a new domestic violence policy. And less than two weeks later, Rice was indefinitely suspended by the NFL.

But Rice’s longer suspension came only after video emerged of him hitting his now-wife in Atlantic City in February. The video, released by TMZ, was posted three days before the tailback was to sit out the last of those two games he was banned.

Only then, after the video went viral, did the league change course. By then, though, the outrage with the NFL and the Ravens had come to a boil. And the simmering really started when the league announced it was benching Rice for all of 120 minutes of regulation to begin the season.

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Report: Ravens made a mess of this from beginning to end

bisciottirice AP

There’s no wonder the Ravens were calling an emergency meeting this afternoon.

An investigation by ESPN has uncovered a load of damning facts about the Ray Rice case, which display a level of missteps unimagined.

Perhaps the most shocking revelation in the 7,000-word-plus story by Don Van Natta Jr. and Kevin Van Valkenburg is that the Ravens knew nearly immediately that Ray Rice had punched his wife in the face in the elevator.

According to the report, Ravens director of security Darren Sanders talked to an Atlantic City police officer within hours of the incident. That officer “described in detail to Sanders what he was seeing.”

The litany of mistakes that followed is amazing, but perhaps as incredible as any are the texts Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti sent to Rice moments after he was released (the day the video was made public by TMZ).

“Hey Ray, just want to let you know, we loved you as a player, it was great having you here. Hopefully all these things are going to die down. I wish the best for you and Janay,” the first text read.

“When you’re done with football, I’d like you to know you have a job waiting for you with the Ravens helping young guys getting acclimated to the league,” said the second.

Those two actions, at the beginning and end of the process, give an indication of how deeply flawed this process has been.

Again, this story is more than 7,000 words long. There’s plenty to digest. There will be more.

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TNF ratings plummet for Week Three

smashed-tv

Last Friday morning, the NFL thumped its chest over the enormous ratings generated by the Steelers-Ravens Thursday Night Football debut, broadcast jointly by CBS and NFLN.  Roughly 20.8 million viewers tuned in, on average, for the 26-6 win by Baltimore.

This Friday, the release came very late in the afternoon.  And the numbers show a sharp decrease in the total audience.  The Buccaneers-Falcons game averaged only 11.8 million viewers.  It wasn’t a compelling match up, and it turned into a rout.

In the end, the game generated an average audience only seven percent higher than last year’s Chiefs-Eagles game, broadcast by NFL Network only.

It may not be any better next week, when Washington hosts the 0-2 Giants.  Neither team has created much buzz this year, and they may not attract much of an audience in six days.

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Ravens deny Harbaugh wanted to cut Rice in February

John Harbaugh AP

The Ravens are denying a new report that there’s been dissension within their franchise for months over Ray Rice, as ESPN says coach John Harbaugh wanted to cut Rice in February, while the team says that’s not the case.

According to the report from ESPN, Harbaugh was upset enough about the team’s off-field misconduct (including not only Rice’s arrest for assaulting his wife but also the arrests of offensive lineman Jah Reid and receiver Deonte Thompson) that he wanted to cut all three arrested players. The report says, however, that Ravens G.M. Ozzie Newsome flatly refused. That report further says that Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti sided with Newsome on keeping Rice.

However, within the report from ESPN is this denial from the Ravens: “John Harbaugh did not want to release Ray Rice until he saw the second video on September 8 for the first time. The video changed everything for all of us.”

Publicly, Harbaugh was supportive of Rice throughout the offseason, right until the decision to cut Rice after the infamous elevator video was published. But the ESPN report suggests otherwise, and paints Harbaugh in a much better light than Newsome and Bisciotti.

This report raises enough questions that Harbaugh, Newsome and Bisciotti should all explain exactly where they stood on Rice before the elevator video was released. And it should come directly from the mouths of those men, and not in a statement released by the team.

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Josh Gordon glad he doesn’t have to sell cars much longer

joshgordon AP

One of today’s winners — other than obfuscation, which is at an all-time high — is Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon.

As a result of the league’s new substance abuse policy, Gordon’s year-long suspension for an amount of marijuana which wouldn’t have triggered a positive test the new guidelines has been shortened to 10 games.

““I’’m happy that the NFLPA and NFL worked hard to agree on a new Substances of Abuse policy,” Gordon said in a statement distributed by the union. “I’’m very thankful to my union for fighting for a significant reduction in my suspension. I’’m glad I can go to the facility during my suspension. I look forward to going to meetings, working out individually, and learning from my coaches and teammates. I can’t wait until game 11 to get back on the field!””

Getting back to the facility might be the biggest part of the news, as it provides Gordon the structure he clearly needs.

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Cordarrelle Patterson probable for Week Three

Cordarrelle Patterson, E.J. Gaines AP

Vikings playmaking wideout Cordarrelle Patterson appears good to go for Sunday’s game at New Orleans.

Patterson, who landed on the injury report Thursday with a chest ailment, is listed as probable after putting in a full practice Friday. He is one of five Vikings who are probable, including right tackle Phil Loadholt (ankle) and right cornerback Xavier Rhodes (groin).

Possessing rare speed and the capability to be used in the backfield, Patterson can create myriad matchup problems for defenses. Patterson’s value to Minnesota has only increased with tailback Adrian Peterson banished from the club after his arrest on a child abuse charge.

Three Vikings starters are listed as questionable: defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (shoulder), weak-side linebacker Chad Greenway (hand/rib) and tight end Kyle Rudolph (abdomen). All three players were limited on Friday. However, in the case of Greenway, the work was his first in practice all week, so that’s not a bad sign entering the matchup with the 0-2 Saints, who have an outstanding offense.

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Breaking: Donald Trump seems a bit of a blowhard

Donald Trump AP

During an afternoon of absolute transparency and concrete plans by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, we now have another item of positively stunning breaking news.

Donald Trump is drawing attention to himself for almost doing something.

Via Mike Rodak of ESPN.com, the investor/reality TV star/extreme combover magnate claimed on Twitter today that he was responsible for Terry Pegula’s $1.4 billion bid for the Bills.

“The Wilson family should thank me. Pegula overpaid for the @buffalobills because of me!” he wrote.

Trump bragged that he bid over $1 billion in cash for the Bills, though that’s the financial equivalent of players using the Adderall defense for any failed drug test, since it’s hard to establish whether he’s telling the truth or just trying to get on television again.

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Goodell promises transparency and accountability in future, offers little in present

Roger Goodell AP

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell broke his long silence on Friday afternoon in a press conference that opened with a lengthy statement promising accountability and transparency from the league in the future.

He offered very little of it in the present, however. Goodell consistently fell back on the talking points from his opening statement over the course of the 43 minute press conference that ended with several members of the media still waiting to ask questions.

In place of concrete answers to questions about why the NFL didn’t get the Ray Rice elevator video, why law enforcement in Atlantic City said they were never contacted by the NFL in an attempt to obtain the video and what ambiguities from Rice’s testimony led Goodell to suspend him indefinitely after finally seeing the video that showed exactly what the police report read, Goodell talked about forming new committees and former FBI head Robert Mueller’s investigation into the league’s handling of the matter.

Perhaps most telling was his unwillingness or inability to answer why it was so much more difficult for him to hand down the proper punishment in the Rice case than it has been in cases that didn’t deal with domestic violence. The man who opened the press conference by saying that he believes in accountability showed little of it in response by saying that the personal conduct policy, which Goodell oversees, was not sufficient to handle that particular case.

When Goodell wanted to be firm, he was. A question about possible conflict of interest for Mueller because his law firm WilmerHale has represented the client was met with Goodell saying that he hired Mueller because of Mueller’s credentials and not the firms. The rest was mushier, going back time and again to promises to fix the system with the help of other experts and the aforementioned committees.

That may lead some to wonder whether Goodell is an essential part of the process or if the man who wielded unilateral power as everything went haywire for the league stands in the way of the kind of changes that he said need to be made.

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Dion Jordan gets another suspension, this one for drugs

Dion Jordan AP

Not only did Dion Jordan not get his suspension shortened, it went the other direction.

According to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, the Dolphins announced that the second-year outside linebacker has been suspended again.

His previous four-game suspension for violating the PED policy was lifted after two games, but was then superseded by a new four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

He will be eligible to return Oct. 20, the day after they play the Bears.

“I am currently undergoing treatment to address my situation,” Jordan said in a statement provided by the team. “I am working hard to become a better man and to make better choices in the future. I am especially looking forward to returning to the team. I also want to thank my family, Coach [Joe] Philbin and the Miami Dolphins organization for their support.”

The short version is he’ll miss six games this year, instead of four, and is looking more and more like a failed use of the third overall choice in the 2013 NFL Draft.

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