There Were Once Great Men…

Wilson_Ralph_04_630We’ve heard all week about the saga involving Ray Rice, Roger Goodell, and the Baltimore Ravens.  It seems to have put the game of football as a whole at a cross roads.  Goodell has dug in while many have called for his resignation.  He’s ordered an internal investigation led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller but to many it isn’t enough.  There has been talk of repercussions, sponsors dropping the league, maybe even a boycott.  Maybe we just need a reminder that there were great men that brought it this sport and maybe there could be more great men who can help lead it into the future.

This Sunday will mark the first game in Buffalo Bills history that it’s founder Ralph C. Wilson won’t be around for.  He died this past March 25th at the age of 95 after 54 years of owning one of the city of Buffalo’s two major sports franchise.  Wilson originally wanted to get into the AFL in the late 50’s with the new franchise in South Florida but when the Miami team went to someone else he told AFL founder Lamar Hunt to “count me in with Buffalo”.  Over 50 years later when someone mentions the city of Buffalo football is surely brought to mind.  The passion for their football team is ingrained as a way of life in Western New York.  Wilson birthed that way of life when he founded the Bills in late 1959.

For almost 20 years the vultures have been circling around the Buffalo Bills franchise.  As far back as the early 90’s, in the middle of the Bills’ heyday as 4-time AFC Champions, there were rumors that the team would be moved to Los Angeles.  By the end of the Bills’ 4-year Super Bowl run Wilson was already 75 years old and the line of succession had already been set – Ralph Wilson’s family would sell the team upon it’s death.  Big wigs from Los Angeles, Toronto and other large metropolises sniffed around the Bills for 20 years but Ralph stand firm on his plan to hold onto the team, in Buffalo, until his death.  After his death this past March his hand-picked trust set out to carry out his plan to sell off the Bills with one very specific instruction – that the franchise does not, under any circumstance, leave Western New York.  That’s how earlier this week it came to pass that Ralph C. Wilson’s $25,000 investment in 1959 turned into a $1.4 billion entity and it did so with the team’s long term security in Buffalo as strong as it’s ever been.

wilson-ralph-kelly-jimAnd so for the first time in two decades fans of the Buffalo Bills will be going to the stadium this Sunday with the knowledge that their children will be able to come to the games and watch their home town Bills when they are their age with kids of their own.  If that’s no reason to love this game than I don’t know what is.  It’s important to remember that for every Ray Rice, Roger Goodell, and Jerry Jones there is a Bob Kalsu, a Pete Rozelle, a Ralph Wilson.  Guys like Wilson literally gave the NFL to us fans over his many years of service.  Hell, we don’t need to boycott the NFL.  We just need to take it back.

Erik Venskus

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Of concussions and bounties…the right ways and wrong ways to handle the problem

I hear it every single year.  No matter how many times you’ve seen someone carted off the field with what might appear to be a severe neck or head injury.  No matter how many times a former player commits suicide.  No matter how many studies that link brain damage and various other side effects to head trauma from playing football or other sports are made public.  No matter what has happened in this off-season, or any other, I can see it coming next September when the new football season begins.  Like clockwork a player will get flagged for a vicious helmet-to-helmet and fans of the team that committed the infraction will flock to their Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, blogs, and any other way to let their voices be heard and enchant the old cliche: “Awww, what is this, the No Fun League?”

Seau was the highest profiled, but not the first, ex NFLer to take his own life after his playing days were over

In my opinion anyone who calls the NFL the “No Fun League” because they disallow violent helmet-to-helmet hits should be in the NSL…the “No Sanity League”.  Concussions shouldn’t be looked at as collateral damage to a violent sport.  Will concussions ever be completely eradicated from the game of football?  No, that would be impossible to do and one of the risks that you take when you put on the pads and pursue a career in football.  They’ll always try to find new ways to protect players like the state of the art helmets that continue to evolve that try to reduce the risk of concussions.  But that is only to protect a player from freak incident, not from a player voluntarily using their heads as a weapon against another man’s head.

That is why Bounty-Gate was so appalling from the outset.  In the age of concussions and the studies that show a direct link to problems after football and excessive head trauma here is this buffoon Gregg Williams who, in 2011, was still openly advocating the savage actions that have crippled the lives of many ex-NFL players.  I’m sure it’s gone on elsewhere but at this point in time, with all of the scientific information that’s been uncovered in recent years, Williams’ willingness to continue the stone aged practice seems almost criminal.  Unfortunately the Bountygate scandal has become just another prop in a story – NFLPA vrs. NFL, former players vrs. current players, former players vrs. the NFL, etc.  Early in the day on Wednesday after the suspensions for the Saints players were handed down I saw many former NFL players go on TV and on Twitter and complain about the punishments, feeling they were excessive.  They complained that bounties have been around forever and it shouldn’t be so much of a big deal now.  What they need to realize is 30, 20, even 10 years ago we didn’t have the knowledge that we do now.  We didn’t know the long term damage the head trauma that was inflicted on so many football players would cause.  That’s what makes it worse.  They knew and continued to do it anyway.

Vilma needs to realize that he is part of the problem and accept his role in the solution

When the sad news of Junior Seau’s suicide came out later in the day I thought to myself “Boy, these guys would have nerve to fight these suspensions at this point”.  Not several hours later was Saints linebacker and bounty ring leader Jonathan Vilma taking to Twitter to pronounce, in all capital letters, that he will fight this supposed injustice.  He claims that the NFL did not even talk to him prior to doling out the punishment however NFL.com’s Steve Wyche reported today that Vilma backed out of a meeting that he had set up with the NFL at the advice of his legal counsel (big surprise there).  The only player to cooperate with the NFL is former Saints defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove who acknowledged the bounty program, his role in it, and accepted his punishment.  Now, even in the light of Seau’s suicide, Vilma still tries to paint himself as the victim in the situation which to me is rather pathetic.

What may be even more pathetic and what is ironically sad about the whole thing is that the head traumas seem to affect the head hunters more so than the head huntees.  Many of the former players who have been the victims of these post-traumatic brain issues have been defensive backs and, like Vilma, linebackers.  Junior Seau, Andre Waters, Dave Duerson were all defensive players who took their lives too soon.  It’s something that can’t be ignored.  Running backs, wide receivers, even tight ends by and large haven’t had these problems after they’ve left the game, at least not at the same rate as DBs and LBs.  It’s likely due to the fact that those guys went out of their way to avoid head contact while the defensive players led with their head, even if they are not aiming for the other players’ head directly.  They’ll jump head-first into a pile or at a players’ knee or hip.  The sad death of Seau and the others along with the firm punishments of those involved in the Bounty scandal should serve as a warning to future generations.  Also fans who crow about the “No Fun League” and say the NFL is becoming like flag football should heed the same warning.  Smarten up.  Losing a life should never be collateral damage to a game.  Anyone who thinks otherwise, well, they need to have their heads checked.

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