Reduced violence as big a threat to NFL popularity as too much?

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Dan LeBatard asked an interesting question on his ESPN radio show last week, wondering what possibly could cause a slide in NFL popularity. There were few convincing answers.

Noted journalist Charles Pierce suggested it would take not just an on-field fatality, but a series of high-profile deaths such as (God forbid), Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers. An anonymous special-teamer or obscure offensive lineman would be insufficient. A solitary A-list player wouldn’t be enough.

I suppose a flurry of in-game tragedies among the most-prominent stars could shake the NFL from its position as TV’s undisputed ratings champ and pop-culture Goliath. Or perhaps a season where the number of deceased players is so startling – like seven football deaths in high school this year – their identities wouldn’t matter.

The majority of fans are undeterred by football’s violent nature. They won’t stop watching just because some players are carted off in immobilization devices. The mental and physical toll that players often experience after retirement doesn’t impact viewers’ enjoyment of in-the-moment action.

There is no evidence that the game is too violent for consumers’ taste.

But could it become too non-violent?

Complaints about the number of rules designed to protect players have never been louder. More than 35 years have elapsed since Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Lambert stated “quarterbacks should wear dresses.” He might suggest they wear bikinis nowadays. Receivers, too.

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It’s OK to have some fun and dance as if no one is watching


The legendary disco band Chic had a 1978 hit that peaked at No. 12 on Billboard’s R&B Singles chart and No. 38 on the Hot 100 chart. Part of the lyrics went as follows:


“Everybody dance, do-do-do,

Clap your hands, clap your hands

Music never lets you down

Puts a smile on your face

Anytime, anyplace

Dancing helps relieve the pain

Soothes your mind, makes you happy again”

Rosemary Plorin should play that song, grab her 9-year-old daughter and twirl around their living room for a spell. The little girl would enjoy it and the mother might gain a better appreciation of joyful expression.

In case you missed it, Plorin is the Nashville mom whose note to Carolina quarterback Cam Newton was published Monday by The Charlotte Observer. She was upset by Newton’s touchdown dance in the Panthers’ 27-10 victory against the host Titans, claiming that the 10-second routine was off-putting and raised questions in her fourth-grader.

“Because of where we sat, we had a close up view of your conduct in the fourth quarter,” Plorin wrote. “The chest puffs. The pelvic thrusts. The arrogant struts and the “in your face” taunting of both Titans’ players and fans. We saw it all.”

Among the schoolgirl’s questions: “Won’t he get in trouble for doing that? Is he trying to make people mad” Do you think he knows he looks like a spoiled brat?

“I didn’t have great answers for her,” Plorin continued, “and honestly, in an effort to minimize your negative impact and what was otherwise a really fun day, I redirected her attention to the cheerleaders.”

Right. No danger of chest puffs or pelvic thrusts there.

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Believe it or not: Washington’s playoff hopes are alive and well

CousinsNewAttitudeBy DERON SNYDER

Putting 47 points on the board and sitting a half-game out of first place in the NFC East puts all sorts of scenarios in one’s head.

Even though we know the future is uncertain, even though we’re aware of week-to-week reality checks, even though our visions typically morph into eyesores, we can’t resist playing “what-if” in the afterglow of euphoria. And nothing makes the heart race like a 47-14 rout against a franchise that recently was near-elite.

Two painful seasons have passed since Washington harbored such bright hopes and much has changed since then – notably the coach, the quarterback, the architect and 60 percent of the roster. Questions still remain but new general manager Scot McCloughan has found answers before with teams that made playoff runs.

Reaching the postseason this year would be an incredible feat, no matter what might happen there. Though a ludicrous thought prior to this season, with Washington a combined 7-25 the previous two years, the playoffs are not out of the picture.

Saying that with a straight face, and not being asked what you’re smoking, is a victory in itself.

Granted, the prospect is due to the division’s putridness as much as the team’s progress. A 4-5 record normally isn’t grounds to beat your chest. While Gruden’s squad has shown resiliency in losing consecutive games only once this year, it has yet to win back-to-back games, something good teams do frequently. Washington also has yet to win on the road in four tries.

Both of those boxes can checked off Sunday when they visit the undefeated Panthers. A victory at Carolina would be a mark of legitimacy in this crazy season where few teams stand out. Two-thirds of the league is at or below .500, including the entire NFC East and AFC South.

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Fat stats against porous defense require dash of perspective

MattJonesSaintsBy DERON SNYDER

LANDOVER, Md. –  Fans witnessed an amazing display Sunday afternoon when the Saints came to FedEx Field. The home team welcomed the visitors with excitement and the anticipation paid off with multiple scoring drives and prodigious yardage.

By the time the clock hit 0:00, the scoreboard read Washington 47, New Orleans 14. As the energized crowd exited with giddiness for the second consecutive home game, one conclusion made sense more than any other:

The Saints have an awful defense.

There’s a tendency to overreact in these parts when the team struggles or the quarterback throws two picks or the coach channels Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men.” One week, Kirk Cousins is the worst QB to step under center. This week he’ll rank among the greatest of all time; he literally was perfect (in terms of passer rating).

At the risk of being labeled a party-pooper, let me remind you again that New Orleans was the opponent. The Saints are like a magic elixir, good for whatever ails an offense. Washington was so-so entering Sunday but got well in a hurry, scoring on eight of its first nine possessions before punting with 3:38 left in the game.

The final statistics were mind-boggling.

Cousins led the offense to 40 points, throwing for 324 yards. He had four touchdowns, five incompletions and zero interceptions. Halfback Alfred Morris rushed for 92 yards, averaging 6.1 per pop. Halfback Matt Jones caught three passes for 131 yards, including a 78-yard screen for a touchdown.  Halfback Chris Thompson rushed for 54 yards … more than the entire team rushed for in any of the last four games.

Thank God for New Orleans.

“We knew we were going to get a heavy dose of the running game,” Saints coach Sean Payton said, “and obviously we didn’t handle it well.” (By comparison, New England coach Bill Belichick knew Washington would try to force a ground attack down the Patriots’ throat, but they yielded a mere 37 yards rushing last week).

Before anyone goes overboard about the fireworks, consider the source. New Orleans lets teams can catch fire easier than match-light charcoal.

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Sensing a shift in atmosphere for NCAA and student-athletes


– “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” – Frederick Douglass

At the risk of inciting the crazy separatists who harbor visions of “taking back our country,” I offer the above quote as a reminder. There is no progress without struggle. Only agitation can break stagnation, whether the goal is civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights … or athletes’ rights.

The University of Missouri football team’s protest had nothing to do with NCAA policies, procedures or prohibitions. The players weren’t seeking a more equitable share of the copious loot they generate. They didn’t take a stand for better healthcare after injuries render them useless to schools.

Controlling their likenesses wasn’t on the list of demands. Neither was redefining impermissible benefits nor receiving academic support past their athletic eligibility. No, the team’s threatened boycott wasn’t about them, or athletics, at all.

And that’s why the NCAA should be very, very afraid.

If the Mizzou protest leads to athletes using their leverage in NCAA reform – a battle primarily fought by administrators, lawyers and journalists – there’s no telling how much damage will be inflicted on the billion-dollar college-sports complex.

“If the players don’t play, the pyramids fall,” former Nike and Adidas executive Sonny Vaccaro told Yahoo Sports.

As we saw Monday, when Missouri president Tom Wolfe and chancellor R. Bowen Loftin announced their resignations, athletes have incredible power. Protests amidst racial tensions had engulfed the campus for several weeks, including a hunger strike by one student. But the nation was oblivious until the football team weighed in and drew attention like a Sumo wrestler directing traffic.

It’s a good bet that Wolfe and Loftin would still have their jobs if 32 players hadn’t tweeted their support for the protests. It’s also a good bet that coach Gary Pinkel would have a difficult time recruiting future stars if he had come out against those 32 players. By galvanizing the team and coaching staff – blacks and whites together – Pinkel helped push the movement over the edge with a tweeted photo of unity.

The change they enacted was largely symbolic. The removal of two officials just might lead to substantial measures that address the problems, but that work remains undone. However, any good that follows is undeniably a result of the team’s action, whether you applauded or were appalled.

The cause is easy enough to support, unless you favor racial slurs and swastikas on campus. Finding allies will be more difficult if student-athletes turn their attention inward. Few issues in college sports are as divisive as “pay-for-play” or other forms of compensation beyond a scholarship.

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Mizzou football team delivers vital – and powerful – lesson


Brave or foolish. Ungrateful or principled. Trailblazers or lemmings.

Athletes or activists.

Your view of the Missouri football team right now has nothing to do with its won-loss record or standing in the Southeastern Conference. The Tigers left the gridiron – breaking away from the chalk lines that determine progress and boundaries – to enter society’s high-speed (and highly charged) rails.

Many fans want sports to serve as an escape, a respite from life’s difficult and challenging day-to-day realities. Just suit up, play ball and shut up; problems can wait until the game is over.

But a number of Missouri’s football players said no, there are troubles that need to be addressed immediately, superseding the need to practice or play sports.

“The athletes of color on the University of Missouri football team truly believe “Injustice Anywhere is a threat to Justice Everywhere,” read a statement Saturday night on Twitter, featuring a photo of 32 players. “We will no longer participate in any football related activities until President Tim Wolfe resigns or is removed due to his negligence toward marginalized students’ experience. WE ARE UNITED!!!!!”

Under pressure from the team, plus a student’s hunger strike, campus organizations, Republican state lawmakers and the Kansas City Star editorial board, Wolfe stepped down Monday during an emergency meeting of the university’s Board of Curators.

“My motivation in making this decision comes from love,” Wolfe announced. “I love M.U. Columbia, where I grew up, and state of Missouri. I have thought and prayed about this decision. It’s the right thing to do.”

As for whether the team did the right thing, man your battle stations.

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Nationals show dysfunction but still end up with a dandy manager


Let’s give it up for the amazing Washington Nationals, who might be making history in front of our eyes. Perhaps no other franchise in baseball – or any other sport – has pulled off the feat we’ve seen over the last few years.

Think about it. The Nationals have gone from laughingstocks who suffered back-to-back 100-loss seasons, to laughingstocks who captured two division titles in a four-year span. Don’t underestimate the difficulty in remaining a joke after attaining success.

Looks like we had it wrong all along: Winning doesn’t cure everything. And every turnaround isn’t a reversal.

The Nationals don’t deserve Dusty Baker, one of baseball’s classiest and most-respected figures. Bud Black didn’t deserve his treatment by the Nationals, one of baseball’s crassest and most-ridiculed franchises. Baker landed the managerial job but you have to wonder if Black isn’t the true victor.

He doesn’t have to work for an organization that keeps finding new ways to embarrass itself.

Fortunately for the Nats, their on-field product is attractive enough to counterbalance the dysfunctional ownership. At age 66, with 20 years as a skipper and three Manager of the Year awards to his credit, Baker is interested in winning a World Series more than winning at the negotiating table. He’ll be introduced Thursday morning, willing to overlook Washington’s clear disrespect for managers because this team can put a ring on his finger.

He won’t bad-mouth the Nats in public. He’ll say all the right things, how he’s happy to be back in baseball after a three-year absence. How the Nationals are still loaded and should contend for the World Series, despite the expected departure of several key players. How no matter what happened during the hiring process, whether he was the No.1 candidate or runner-up, it’s his job now and he plans to maximize the opportunity.

But surely he’s incredulous – like everyone else – that the club offered Black a one-year contract with a straight face. One year? For a veteran major-league manager?

Novice Matt Williams got a two-year deal. Don Mattingly just signed for four years with the Miami Marlins. Three is normal. Offering a lone year doesn’t express interest, it displays contempt.

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Injury to Seahawks wide receiver had us fearing the worst


We have seen horrific crashes claim lives in auto racing. We have seen brutal beatings claim lives in boxing. We have seen terrible accidents claim lives in action sports.

One day, we might see a violent collision that claims a life in the NFL.

But if we’re lucky, we’ll just see players who “only” are left paralyzed.

Death and maiming are distinct possibilities in some sports, including football. For several minutes during Sunday’s Cowboys-Seahawks game, we wondered if we witnessed a fatality – all the while praying it was just an injury.

Seattle wideout Ricardo Lockette dropped to the ground like a rag doll and was motionless after Dallas safety Jeff Heath delivered a devastating block during a kickoff return. We would’ve felt so much better if Lockette rolled around in pain or arose and staggered toward the sideline.

Or moved, period.

Instead, he lay lifeless while a bevy of medical staffers attended to him for what seemed like forever. Through the crowd of folks kneeling over him, we focused on his arms and legs, looking for the slightest flex or twitch. We wanted a sign that he was alive and his body still worked (in that order).

Lockette finally obliged, opening his eyes and speaking. He raised his fists while being carted off the field, pointing to fans as they applauded. Taken to a local hospital, he displayed full movement in all extremities.

“I know a lot of guys were really hurting for him, because we didn’t know what was going on,” Seattle wideout Doug Baldwin told reporters after the game. “But we’re thankful he’s OK.”

“OK” is relative. Lockette suffered a sore neck and concussion that could lead to who-knows-what. But that’s better than the fears that invaded our head while he was down and out (unconscious) after the hit.

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Lenny Dykstra’s claims seem iffy but they make you think


Attention: Major League Baseball umpires are human like the rest of us, susceptible to the same flaws and failings found in folks who don’t call balls and strikes for a living.

In case we forgot, Lenny Dykstra is glad to remind us.

“Their blood’s just as red as ours,” the former Mets and Phillies said Tuesday in an interview with Fox’s Colin Cowherd. “Some of them like women, some of them like men, some of them gamble, some of them do whatever.”

Sports fans – not to mention league commissioners – get nervous when “umpires” and “gambling” are used in the same sentence. No one wants to believe that calls might be swayed by the spread. If the final score is influenced by which team an official took – or which gambler got next to him – that’s worrisome.

Dykstra said he hired private investigators to dig up dirt on umpires and used the info for an advantage in the batter’s box. “It wasn’t a coincidence do you think that I led the league in walks the next two years, was it? Fear does a lot to a man.”

So does greed. Dykstra’s overwhelming desires in life led to his steroid use and a prison stint for bankruptcy fraud and grand-theft auto charges.

Ethics isn’t his strong suit. Accuracy isn’t high on the list, either, considering he led the league in walks once (129 in 1993), not twice. In fact, Dykstra didn’t come close to leading the league any other year. His second-best season for walks was 89 in 1990.

He probably thinks fudging the truth isn’t a big deal, especially since he’s writing a book. Juiced body and juiced stories, they’re all just part of the game.

“I said, ‘I need these umpires,’ so what do I do?” Dykstra told Cowherd. “I just pulled a half-million bucks out and hired a private investigation team.”  He said he shared the findings at the plate.

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Hardy makes shameful spectacle of himself and Dallas


No one in the NFC East has anything to brag about.

The first-place New York Giants lead the way with a middling 4-3 record. The Philadelphia Eagles are 3-4, struggling to prove that Chip Kelly really is a genius. The locals have yet to win twice in a row this season and face New England in their next attempt.

But at least none of those teams are like Dallas. The Cowboys not only miss their star quarterback (0-3 without Tony Romo), they have to justify their controversial defensive end (0-1 when Greg Hardy goes berserk).

Believers in karma have a new Exhibit A as evidence. In March, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones signed a great talent in Hardy, who already has three sacks in two games played. There’s no question that the 6-5, 280-pound rusher is a disruptive force on the line and a menace to QBs.

However, he previously has been a menace to women and a disruptive force within the Carolina Panthers.

Hardy was convicted in 2014 of domestic assault and communicating threats in a case involving a former girlfriend, who said he threw her on a bed covered with guns and threatened to kill her with one. She was a no-show for his appeal (reportedly paid off) and the charges were dropped, as Hardy was suspended for all but one game last season and the first four games this season.

He has wasted no time drawing negative attention to himself and his new employer, making insensitive comments about “guns a-blazing,” speaking inappropriately about Tom Brady’ wife and, the latest, acting out indefensibly during Sunday’s loss against the Giants.

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