TIME NFL

FCC Could Punish Broadcasters Who Say ‘Redskins’

Redskins Cowboys Football
Aaron M. Sprecher—AP

"There are a lot of names and descriptions that were used over time that are inappropriate today"

The Federal Communications Commission will consider punishing broadcasters for using the Washington Redskins‘ nickname on air, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said during a conference call with reporters, according to Reuters.

Legal activist John Banzhaf III, a law professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., petitioned the FCC to revoke a Washington radio station’s broadcast license due to its repeated use of the nickname.

Wheeler said his organization will “be looking into that petition.”

“There are a lot of names and descriptions that were used over time that are inappropriate today,” Wheeler added, according to Reuters. “And I think the name that is attributed to the Washington football club is one of those.”

Native American chief urges boycott of FedEx over ‘Redskins’ name​

In June, the franchise had its trademark revoked on the grounds that it was “disparaging to Native Americans.”

An SI poll earlier this month found that only 25 percent of fans thought the name should be changed.

CBS broadcaster Phil Simms told SI.com earlier this month he would try not to use the name while broadcasting Washington’s game against the Giants in Week 4.

South Park takes on the Washington Redskins’ nickname controversy​

A senator from Washington state also announced she would introduce legislation to strip the NFL of its tax-exempt status as a response to the league’s support of the nickname.

Washington owner Dan Snyder infamously told USA Today in 2013, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”

This article originally appeared on SI.com

TIME NFL

Are NFL Head Injuries Causing Domestic Violence?

Jovan Belcher, in September 2012.
Jovan Belcher, in September 2012. Kansas City Star—MCT/Getty Images

A report shows that Jovan Belcher, who killed his girlfriend before taking his own life in 2012, probably had football-related brain trauma. A link between the NFL's most troubling issues is far from implausible

Another football “what if” was just answered. In December 2012, after Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend before fatally shooting himself in the head in the team parking lot, you couldn’t help but wonder: could head injuries associated with football have contributed to this horrible act? Aggression and lack of impulse control are known symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disease that had ravaged the brains of over 30 deceased NFL players. A few of them had committed suicide.

Still, you had to approach the question gently, because casually linking the game to Belcher’s actions was irresponsible. Belcher also had “no long concussion history,” the Chiefs said at the time. There was no evidence that he had brain damage.

Until now. Far too often over the past few years, football’s worst fears are confirmed. According to a neuropathological report prepared in the wrongful death lawsuit that lawyers for Belcher’s daughter have filed against the Chiefs, Belcher’s brain showed signs of damage “fully consistent with the pathological presentation of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) as it is reported in the medical literature.” For example, the research — conducted by Dr. Piotr Kozlowski, dean of research and professor of pathology at the Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York City — says that Belcher had clumps of tau protein in “the 7 out of 7 sections of the right (4 sections) and the left (3 sections) of the hippocampi.” A buildup of abnormal tau levels can cause nerve cell damage in the brain.

Belcher’s body was exhumed a year after his death; his brain showed “severe decomposition,” according to the report. Researchers can only diagnose CTE posthumously. “The quality and quantity are compromised because there was some breakdown of the brain after death and due to the gunshot,” says Dr. Sam Gandy, director of the Mount Sinai Center for Cognitive Health and NFL Neurological Center, who examined Kozlowski’s report at TIME’s request. “But I don’t see any reason to doubt this reading of CTE.”

Belcher is not the first athlete with signs of CTE to act violently. Chris Benoit, a former pro wrestler, killed his wife and son before committing suicide in 2007. The family of Paul Oliver, a former safety for the San Diego Chargers and New Orleans Saints, sued the NFL, the Chargers, the Saints and several helmet manufacturers after Oliver’s 2013 suicide. In an upcoming episode of HBO’s Real Sports, Oliver’s wife Chelsea talks about how her husband abused her. She says he pushed her, kicked her, pulled her hair, and threw her against the wall. One time, she says he dragged her up and down stairs. HBO asked Chelsea if she felt like her life was in jeopardy. “As time went on, I starting thinking about that, yes,” she said. Both Oliver and Benoit had CTE.

After these tragedies, all “what ifs” are on the table. It’s more than fair to ask if the NFL’s two most troubling issues, domestic violence and head trauma, are linked.”You can’t say those brown spots on Jovan Belcher’s brain caused him to do what he did,” says Dr. Julian Bailes, chairman of the department of neurosurgery at the NorthShore University HealthSystem outside of Chicago, who has extensively studied football brain injuries. “But are those brown spots tell-tale signs of a brain injury that influences behavior? With every case like this, we keep upping the ante.”

Even if players haven’t fully developed CTE, or haven’t suffered obvious concussions, they still may be at risk. “The frontal lobe of the brain often jostles around during head contact in football games,” says Gandy. “And the frontal lobe has an inhibiting effect that helps control behavior. Damage to the frontal lobe can compromise the inhibiting effect, and cause mood swings, even violence. You simply can’t exclude the possibility that frontal lobe damage is linked to damaging behavior.”

Scientists are starting to identifying possible ways to spot at-risk players while they’re still alive. Gandy injected a radioactive chemical that sticks to tau into a former NFL player who has suffered cognitive decline: a PET scan picked up the tau buildup, showing pathology consistent with CTE. “We’re still early in our experience, but at a minimum, we can signal to people that they might clinically be showing signs of CTE,” Gandy says. His team just published this neuroimaging technique in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

Bailes has also been working on a PET scanning method to spot CTE in living patients, in conjunction with UCLA researchers. He anticipates expanding it to NorthShore. “While it’s been rewarding to do work on tau,” says Bailes, “it’s gets a little tiring diagnosing patients when they’re already dead.”

 

TIME Regulation

FCC Ends Rule That Led to NFL ‘Blackouts’

Tom Brady
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady throws a pass during pre-game warm-ups before playing the Kansas City Chiefs on September 29, 2014. Matthew J. Lee—The Boston Globe/Getty Images

The FCC brushed aside the NFL's objections that blackouts were needed to drum up attendance at undersold games

The Federal Communications Commission unanimously voted Tuesday to revoke its support for “sports blackouts,” in which a sports team can suppress local broadcasts of its games until it has sold a certain percentage of stadium seating. But the FCC said blackouts could continue as part of separate agreements between teams and local broadcasters, raising questions about whether the rule change will really lead to fewer blackouts.

The little-known rule, which was first put into effect in 1975, disproportionately affected NFL games, which were blacked out if the team hadn’t sold 85 to 100 percent of its tickets 72 hours before kickoff.

The FCC called the rule an “unnecessary and outdated” means of drumming up ticket sales. “Television revenues have replaced tickets sales as the NFL’s main source of revenue, and blackouts of NFL games are increasingly rare,” the FCC said in a statement announcing the decision.

TIME NFL

NFL Says Player Shouldn’t Have Been Penalized for Muslim Prayer

Husain Abdullah
Kansas City Chiefs free safety Husain Abdullah carries the ball after intercepting a pass during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots Sept. 29, 2014, in Kansas City, Mo. Ed Zurga—AP

Husain Abdullah bent his head to the ground in a traditional Muslim prayer after a touchdown

An NFL spokesman said Tuesday morning that Kansas City Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah shouldn’t have been penalized for celebrating a touchdown with a Muslim prayer on Monday night.

According to the NFL, officials aren’t supposed to flag players who go to the ground for religious reasons.

With 10:34 remaining in the fourth quarter of Kansas City’s game against the New England Patriots, Abdullah intercepted a pass from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and returned it 39 yards for a touchdown that put Kansas City up 41-7 in a game it eventually won 41-14.

BURKE: Monday night nightmare for Patriots in loss to Chiefs

After crossing the goal line, Abdullah slid on his knees and then bent his head to the ground in a traditional Muslim prayer after his slide had stopped, at which point he was penalized.

While NFL rules prohibit celebrations that occur on the ground, officials have made an exception for Christian prayer celebrations, seemingly necessitating a similar exception for Muslim prayer celebrations.

According to the Associated Press, Abdullah said after the game that he thought he was penalized for his slide and not going to the ground in prayer.

After the penalty, CJ LaBoy, Abdullah’s agent, said on Twitter “there’s going to be some problems” if Abdullah receives a fine from the NFL for his celebration.

FARRAR: Raiders fire Allen as situation in Oakland remains a mess

Abdullah is known within the NFL as a devout Muslim, along with older brother Hamzy Abduallah, a former NFL safety.

Husain Abdullah took the 2012 season off in order to make Hajj, the traditional Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, joined by Hamzy. He said after the trip that the pair “had to” make the trip despite potentially sacrificing their NFL futures because of its importance to their faith.

Abdullah also fasts during Ramadan, which often falls during training camp, meaning he must go without food and water during the daytime while working around practices.

The touchdown against the Patriots was the second of Abdullah’s career.

This article originally appeared on SI.com

TIME NFL

NFL Under Fire for Penalizing Muslim Player After End Zone Prayer

He was handed a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct

The NFL sparked yet more outrage Monday after appearing to penalize Kansas City Chiefs player Husain Abdullah, a devout Muslim, for kneeling on the ground in the end zone to praise God after scoring the second touchdown of his career.

This post-TD reaction was deemed unsportsmanlike conduct for excessive celebration and resulted in a 15-yard penalty:

The reaction from Abdullah’s brother and agent indicated this was indeed a moment of prayer:

Which, according to former VP of Officiating at the NFL Mike Pereira in a 2013 tweet, is not the intent of the rule against going to the ground:

In a 2009 interview, Pereira said that he didn’t want to penalize prayer for fear of getting “struck by lightning.”

Fans took to Twitter to denounce the call, which has incited the creation of various memes showing what prayer is deemed acceptable and what is penalized:

But Abdullah himself said it was likely his slide across the end zone that had provoked the penalty call, and not his impromptu prayer. “I got a little too excited,” he told local media. “The slide before it, I’m pretty sure that did it.”

The Chiefs ended up beating the Patriots 41-14.

TIME NFL

Vikings Still Hawk Peterson Jerseys Despite Ban for Abuse Allegations

Adrian Peterson
Adrian Peterson Dilip Vishwanat—Getty Images

The team is still very prominently selling Peterson’s jersey at their home games.

The Minnesota Vikings are paying Adrian Peterson to stay as far away from them as possible, but they’re not about to stop turning a profit off of him.

The best running back in the NFL stands accused of beating his child and his team wants nothing to to do with him. That’s the official and public team stance anyways, but the pocketbook in Minnesota is telling a very different story. As one Vikings fan pointed out on Sunday, the team is still very prominently selling Peterson’s jersey at their home games.

Deadspin posted a photo from a reader that shows the Vikings may not want Peterson around in person, but if he’s there in spirit and they can turn a profit, then that’s a different story. This shows the true face of the NFL but it’s a face we already knew about. At the end of the day, the NFL is a business and everything is a profit margin — even running backs like Peterson who stands accused of abusing his child.

The Vikings can do whatever they want, as Peterson isn’t suspended and he’s still part of the team in the most technical of ways. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be pointed out that selling his jerseys is in the poorest taste possible.

This article originally appeared on SI.com

TIME

Daily Show Airs Segment That Infuriated Redskins Fans Before It Even Broadcast

Fans of the NFL team were outraged after being confronted on camera by Native American activists

Comedy Central aired an episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Thursday night that waded into the controversy over the ‘Redskins’ NFL team name, despite outrage from team fans interviewed by the show who said they were “ambushed” and “duped” during the taping of the segment.

During one part of the report, Daily Show reporter Jason Jones spoke to a group of Native Americans who want the team name changed because they feel it is offensive, along with a group of Redskins fans who defended use of the name. The Redskins fans said they were surprised and upset when Jones invited the Native American activists to meet with them.

“This goes way beyond mocking. Poking fun is one thing, but that’s not what happened,” Kelli O’Dell, 56, told The Washington Post after the segment was first taped. “It was disingenuous. The Native Americans accused me of things that were so wrong. I felt in danger. I didn’t consent to that. I am going to be defamed.”

Before airing the segment, Stewart said the show takes seriously any claims that people are duped into participating. Comedy Central, it seems, determined that the offended fans were not misled.

TIME NFL

AP Source: Video Addressed to NFL Security Chief

Baltimore Ravens football player Ray Rice holds hands with his wife, Janay Palmer, as they arrive at Atlantic County Criminal Courthouse in Mays Landing, N.J., in May 2014.
Baltimore Ravens football player Ray Rice holds hands with his wife, Janay Palmer, as they arrive at Atlantic County Criminal Courthouse in Mays Landing, N.J., in May 2014. Mel Evans—AP

(ATLANTIC CITY, N.J.) — The video of Ray Rice punching his fiancee inside a casino elevator was sent to NFL headquarters to the attention of league security chief Jeffrey Miller in April, a law enforcement official says.

The NFL has repeatedly said no one with the league saw the violent images until TMZ Sports released the video earlier this month. Miller said Thursday through an NFL spokesman that he never received the video.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to release details of the case, said he doesn’t know if Miller ever saw the DVD or opened the package. His only communication with the NFL was a 12-second voicemail on April 9 from league offices confirming receipt of the package, in which a woman says, “You’re right. It’s terrible.”

The official told the AP two weeks ago that he sent the video to the NFL, but asked the AP not to report that he had addressed the package to Miller. He eliminated that restriction Thursday.

“Since the NFLPA and NFL have launched separate investigations into the league and the Ravens’ handling of Ray Rice’s case, I want to make a few things clear. No one from the NFL ever asked me for the inside-elevator video,” the official said Thursday. “I mailed it anonymously to Jeff Miller because he’s their head of security. I attached a note saying: ‘Ray Rice elevator video. You have to see it. It’s terrible.’ I provided a number for a disposable cellphone and asked for confirmation that it was received. I knew there was a possibility Mr. Miller may not get the video, but I hoped it would land in the right hands.”

Miller, in London preparing for the Raiders-Dolphins game Sunday, issued a statement to the AP Thursday night through an NFL spokesman.

“I unequivocally deny that I received at any time a copy of the video, and I had not watched it until it was made public on September 8,” he said.

Miller joined the league in 2008 as director of strategic security and was promoted to chief security officer in April 2011. Before joining the NFL, Miller spent nearly six years as the commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police. He worked for the state police for 24 years.

At the NFL, Miller’s responsibilities include overseeing investigative programs and services. He is also in charge of event security and game integrity. When players get arrested, the NFL’s corps of investigators rarely get involved, leaving that to local law enforcement. The league’s security operatives gather court documents and police reports available to the public, but don’t ordinarily interview witnesses or gather evidence independently.

It remains unclear what happened to the video once it arrived at league offices. There are two NFL executives named Jeffrey Miller, but the law enforcement official didn’t know that, and intended it to go to the chief of security. The official said he wanted to make sure the NFL had the video before deciding on Rice’s punishment.

“My intention wasn’t to bring down Commissioner Goodell or anyone else at the NFL,” he said.

He said he didn’t know the identity of the woman who left him the voicemail. He said he chose Miller because of his law enforcement background, even though he didn’t know him personally.

Rice, a former Pro Bowl running back for the Baltimore Ravens, was arrested in Atlantic City on an assault charge for hitting Janay Palmer in February. A police summons stated that Rice had struck Palmer with his hand, knocking her unconscious. Rice has been accepted into New Jersey’s pretrial intervention program, which enabled him to avoid jail time and could result in having the charge expunged from his record.

Initially, Goodell suspended Rice — who has since married Palmer — for two games. After criticism, Goodell announced new stiffer penalties for future domestic violence cases. After video of the punch in the casino elevator was released, the Ravens cut Rice and Goodell suspended him indefinitely.

League and Ravens officials said they requested the video from law enforcement but were denied. ESPN and others have reported that the Ravens had a detailed description of the video shortly after Rice was arrested.

After the AP reported that the video was sent to NFL headquarters, Goodell announced that former FBI Director Robert Mueller would lead an internal investigation. That probe is ongoing, and there is no timetable for its completion.

The law enforcement official said he does not want to speak to NFL investigators, and Mueller, who is now in private practice with a Washington law firm with deep ties to the NFL, has no subpoena power. “I know nothing else about this case,” the official said.

Former FBI Chief of Staff Aaron Zebley, who is working with Mueller on the investigation, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.

TIME NFL

Ties Between NFL and Former FBI Head Raise Questions About Probe

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell News Conference
National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell speaks during a press conference on September 19, 2014 inside Hilton Midtown in New York City. Alex Goodlett—Getty Images

Robert Mueller was tapped by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to investigate

On Sept. 9, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell hired former FBI Director Robert Mueller to run an independent investigation into the league’s handling of the Ray Rice affair. But independent is hardly the way to describe the probe, given the deep connections that exist between the NFL, Mueller’s law firm — WilmerHale — and Rice’s former team, the Baltimore Ravens. How deep do those bonds go? The president of the Ravens was a partner at the firm that became WilmerHale for 31 years.

On WilmerHale’s website the firm boasts that “our expansive alumni network includes many former WilmerHale attorneys who have moved on to highly respectable positions after leaving the firm — for example … in-house counsel for National Football League teams.” An article in The American Lawyer from February 2006 paints the law firm as a production line for sports executives, particularly in the NFL. The article is available on WilmerHale’s website.

Fan poll: Should Goodell keep his job? | Game deserves better than Goodell

Former WilmerHale lawyers who hold senior positions within the NFL front office or with NFL teams include the league’s finance counsel, Jay Bauman, and both the Browns president, Alec Scheiner, and executive vice president, Sashi Brown. Partner David Donovan also served as general counsel for the Washington Redskins from 2005 to ‘09, before returning to WilmerHale in ‘11.

Another former WilmerHale lawyer is Ravens president Richard Cass. He was a partner at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering — which merged with Hale and Dorr to form WilmerHale in 2004 — from 1972 to 2003, and both Bauman and Scheiner worked under Cass at the law firm. Cass represented oil tycoon Jerry Jones in his purchase of the Dallas Cowboys in 1989, and he worked as an advisor for the NFL in the ‘93 collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association.

In 2004, Stephen Bisciotti reached out to Cass’ firm for assistance with his $600 million acquisition of the Ravens. Cass was then the head of WilmerHale’s corporate practice, and Scheiner was the lead advisor of the buyout. As the new owner of the Ravens, Bisciotti made Cass his first hire.

That same year, Scheiner left WilmerHale to become general counsel for the Dallas Cowboys. While at the law firm, Scheiner had done outside work for that team. Scheiner was promoted to vice president in 2008, and in ‘12 moved to the Browns to become team president. Brown, another former protégé of Cass’, left WilmerHale for the Jaguars in 2005. A year after Scheiner moved to Cleveland, he brought Brown on as executive vice president.

Cass’ influence within the NFL runs deep enough that he was even touted as a candidate — albeit a darkhorse — to replace Paul Tagliabue when he stepped down as NFL commissioner in 2006. In a statement at the time, however, Cass wrote, “Certainly, no one has approached me, and I have the job I’ve always wanted. This is where I’ll stay.”

Mueller rejoined WilmerHale in March — he was a partner at Hale and Dorr from 1993 to ‘95 — after running the FBI for 12 years. The appearance of conflict here is unavoidable. The NFL also appointed Giants co-owner John Mara and Steelers owner Art Rooney to oversee Mueller’s investigation. Mara has already publicly dispelled any notion that Goodell’s job is in danger, raising further doubts about impartiality. In an interview with NBC’s Michele Tafoya on Sunday, Rooney also put his support behind the commissioner. “One mistake doesn’t ruin a great career,” Rooney said. “[Goodell’s] had a great career.”

In his Aug. 28 letter to the NFL owners explaining his handling of the Rice episode Goodell wrote: “I didn’t get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.” By believing Mueller and two of his biggest supporters can conduct an independent investigation of the NFL, the commissioner may have gotten it wrong all over again.

This article originally appeared on SI.com

TIME Football

NFL Players Association Hires Its Own Top D.C. Lawyer

Kansas City Chiefs v Denver Broncos
Doug Pensinger—Getty Images

The NFLPA will conduct their own investigation into handling of Ray Rice case

The NFL Players Association has hired its own D.C. lawyer, Richard Craig Smith, to conduct an investigation into how the Ray Rice case was handled, it announced Wednesday.

Smith, a former federal prosecutor, will conduct his investigation in parallel to Rice’s current appeal of the league’s decision to suspend him indefinitely after a video of him punching his now-wife was leaked, the NFLPA said in a statement.

 

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