Four notes of the weekend I'd like you to know about.
In Seattle, coach Pete Carroll acknowledged after the club's three-day rookie minicamp that there will be a three-way competition for quarterback this spring and summer. And 5-10˝ Russell Wilson is the third wheel, joining favorite Matt Flynn and 2011 starter Tarvaris Jackson. After watching Wilson for three days, Carroll said Sunday: "He's going to be in the competition. He's shown us enough. He's in the competition.''
I can see the steam coming out of Flynn's ears right now. Not because he was promised the starting job. But because the Seahawks picked a quarterback in the third round who likely needs a couple of years on the JV, and the coach is already putting him on something of an equal footing with two guys far more accomplished. Just goes to show you: History means very little to Carroll, a "now" guy.
Is it dumb? No, it's not dumb. As GM John Schneider told me after the draft, Wilson was the third-best player he studied in all of college football last year, and Schneider doesn't care what anybody on any other team or on TV thinks of his draft-weekend decisions. Against a big-time schedule with Wisconsin last year, Wilson put up some phenomenal numbers -- 73 percent passing, 10.3 yards per attempt, 33 touchdowns and four interceptions -- and his leadership is similar to Drew Brees'.
So is his size, come to think of it ... a little more than an inch shorter, actually. But Flynn and Jackson are on notice: The best man will win this summer. In a 24-day span beginning May 22, the Seahawks will have 13 full-squad OTAs and minicamp practices. By the time that's over on June 14, we're going to have a good idea whether Wilson will belong in the fray with the two veterans in training camp this summer.
In New York, the NFL is mulling over options about which way to turn in post-career player care. Tough call, obviously, in part because the league doesn't want to overreact to the death of Junior Seau. Many meetings in the league office about how to react to Seau, and to the concerns of so many players about how to replace football in their lives, and there's been no definitive decision about how, if at all, the league should proceed here.
One of the things the league's batting around is having retired players mentor and/or counsel players late in their careers -- a sort of peer-to-peer counseling method that veteran players may look upon with more hope that it'd be relevant to what they're going through as they prepare to transition to life after football. What would help is if the league and the players union were getting along now, so there could be a cooperative effort here, because there should be.
NFLPA czar De Smith told player agents at the Scouting Combine that it should be a huge priority for them to prepare their players for life after football, so clearly he's concerned about it. But with the league and NFLPA at odds on the Saints bounty penalties, I doubt they're going to be agreeing on anything in the near future.
In Chicago, former Bear Tommie Harris is doing something tremendous for his late wife, Ashley, as Sean Jensen reported in the Chicago Sun-Times Sunday. Ashley, 29, died of a stroke or brain aneurysm in February. Sunday would have been their first Mother's Day together as husband and wife; they had two young children. But Harris, now a single dad, is formulating plans to build a school in The Sudan for enslaved or abused girls in the region, which became a passion for the Harrises. The couple visited Africa twice together, and now he's determined to honor her name by building the Ashley Harris Sunshine School through a nonprofit called Pros For Africa (prosforafrica.com/Ashley), which raises money for African causes through professionals, and not just pro athletes. Jensen's story is touching, and highlights Harris' passion for helping so many destitute and preyed-upon people with little hope.
In San Diego, a respectful crowd at Qualcomm Stadium Friday night heard great tributes to Junior Seau's life. I thought the best thing that was said came from Dan Fouts, the former great Charger quarterback. "With all the tragedies, there are lessons to be learned for all of us," Fouts said at the stadium event. "If you need help, get help. It's out there for all of you. All you have to do is swallow your pride and ask for it. We must do a better job of communication and handling our doubts and fears. Do something about it."
Has the "Concussion Crisis" peaked?
I've gotten a positive vibe from many of you when I turn over a few paragraphs of the column to players -- Eric Winston on being a free agent, Matt Light on retiring in recent weeks -- and I'll continue to do so when I think the time is right, or the topic good. The other day, I was on a SiriusXM NFL Radio show with Ross Tucker, the former NFL guard and special-teamer, and he had an interesting perspective on the topic of head trauma in the NFL, and I asked him to share his thoughts with you. His words:
"The concussion issue in football, which has been such a hot topic in recent weeks, is one I take very seriously. Because I have a big head (literally, and hopefully not figuratively), I used it often throughout my football career, especially in the NFL ... sometimes even as a weapon. As a result, I read the latest concussion information, get the updates on the progress of the Sports Legacy Institute via email, and in fact have agreed to donate my brain to the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University School of Medicine upon my death.
"That said, barring something totally unforeseen coming out of the research, I can't help but think that the issue is only going to get better from here, and that the worst of it is behind us at the NFL level. The 'crisis,' I believe, is likely overblown. It is my contention that the guys who played in the last four decades are the ones who are likely to suffer the most, whatever that ends up meaning to each individual.
"Future players should be in much better shape, for a number of reasons.
"For one, there is an awareness now about the issue of brain trauma and concussions that didn't exist during the years of smelling salts and 'seeing stars' or getting your 'bell rung.' A lot of positives have come out of that awareness, such as a protocol for how to handle concussions or even possible concussions, a new CBA that drastically limits the amount of overall hitting, new rules that protect defenseless players from hits to the head, a push for better equipment, and a dramatic culture change among the players and coaches regarding concussions that should only be enhanced as we move forward.
"The net result of all of those positives combined at the NFL level should be a diminishing of overall contact, fewer defenseless players like quarterbacks and wide receivers taking dangerous shots to the head, fewer players either hiding or being unaware of the fact that they suffered a concussion, and hopefully zero players returning to action without being cleared medically following a concussion. And all of this while wearing better equipment as the league continues to make strides in that area as well.
"I'm not minimizing concussions or brain trauma at all. Far from it. It just seems a logical conclusion that the NFL players who play in the 2010s, 2020s, and 2030s should be in better shape, at least cognitively, than the guys like me who played over the last 40 years before the awareness about head trauma increased with all the alarm bells of the last couple of years.''
Finally, this for all you grads ... and all of you who love commencement speeches, like me.
This is from Aaron Sorkin, the Hollywood screenwriter and producer and Syracuse grad. He spoke at the Syracuse graduations Sunday. What I liked from his speech:
"I've made some bad decisions. I lost a decade of my life to cocaine addiction. You know how I got addicted to cocaine? I tried it. The problem with drugs is that they work, right up until the moment that they decimate your life. Try cocaine, and you'll become addicted to it. Become addicted to cocaine, and you will either be dead, or you will wish you were dead, but it will only be one or the other. My big fear was that I wasn't going to be able to write without it. There was no way I was going to be able to write without it. Last year I celebrated my 11-year anniversary of not using coke. In that 11 years, I've written three television series, three movies, a Broadway play, won the Academy Award and taught my daughter all the lyrics to 'Pirates of Penzance.' I have good friends.
"You'll meet a lot of people who, to put it simply, don't know what they're talking about. In 1970 a CBS executive famously said that there were four things that we would never, ever see on television: a divorced person, a Jewish person, a person living in New York City and a man with a mustache. By 1980, every show on television was about a divorced Jew who lives in New York City and goes on a blind date with Tom Selleck. Develop your own compass, and trust it. Take risks, dare to fail, remember the first person through the wall always gets hurt.''
Have you heard a good 2012 commencement address? Send the link, or the speech, to me at email@example.com and I'll run the best highlights next week in the column.
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