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Sports column: Ensuring player safety should be a no-brainer for Goodell, NFL

Former All-Pro NFL linebacker Junior Seau died last week from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound to the heart — not the head. But beyond the cause of his death, some more questions about his life in the NFL remain.

Although we don’t explicitly know why Seau took his own life last week, many suspect he was suffering from a form of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, an irreversible brain disease often caused by repeated blows to the head.

CTE triggers progressive degeneration of brain tissue and is linked to symptoms including memory loss, anger, depression and dementia.

More than 20 deceased former NFL players whose brains have been tested for CTE by Boston University researchers have tested positive, including former Chicago Bears defensive back Dave Duerson.

Like Seau, Duerson shot himself in the chest in February 2011. He left a note asking that his brain be used for research.

Twenty years ago, no one knew the effects concussions and other forms of head trauma would have on a generation of hard-hitting NFL players. Now the consequences of that era are clear, and it’s time to stop ignoring them.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has begun to crack down on devastating hits that have had lasting effects on players like Duerson. During his tenure as commissioner, Goodell has given severe fines and suspensions to players that lay helmet-to-helmet hits on opponents.

Notably, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison has been fined more than $125,000 for a number of illegal hits during the past two seasons.

The fines have been much to the dismay of fans and other players, who contest that the hits are merely part of the game.

Harrison went as far as calling Goodell a “crook” and a “devil” in an interview during the summer of 2011.

But the outcry doesn’t end with Harrison. Four current NFL players, as well as three coaches and a general manager, were recently suspended for their role in a bounty scandal that occurred during the last decade in the New Orleans Saints organization.

Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the alleged leader of the bounty system, was suspended indefinitely while head coach Sean Payton and defensive captain Jonathan Vilma each received one-year suspensions.

The NFL report on the investigation states that New Orleans players received large sums of money for “cart-offs” or “knockouts” of opposing players.

Audio captured Williams saying, “We’ve got to do everything in the world to make sure we kill (San Francisco 49ers running back) Frank Gore’s head,” prior to the Saints’ NFC semifinal game against the 49ers last season.

But still, NFL players remain critical of the suspensions, often stating that what happened in New Orleans happens in every locker room across the league.

Former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner, one of the targets of the Saints’ bounty system, was recently criticized for sharing his concerns about the violence of football.

But Seau’s death makes the bounty scandal seem even more egregious.

If the explosive hits that we have become accustomed to in the NFL are allowed to continue, cases like Duerson’s might become the new norm.

Despite his campaign for player safety, Goodell is still a proponent for a new 18-game schedule, as opposed the 16 games each team currently plays.

Goodell claims he is simply responding to the desires of the fans that want more football, but in all likelihood, Goodell’s motives are financially driven.

The schedule discussion was one of the topics frequently addressed during the offseason meetings, but it needs to be put to rest.

The attention of the league needs to be less focused on its money-making endeavors and more on the safety of its players.

Hopefully Seau’s death will act as a turning point in that fight, and a chance to move the game forward with vigilance.

Rob Ogden is a senior studying journalism and assistant sports editor of The Post. Are helmet-to-helmet hits just part of the game? Email him at


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