- - Tuesday, July 26, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

On the opening day of NFL camps, the league and union responsible for protecting its players, like the surgeon general putting a warning on a pack of cigarettes, issued a joint message that, for all intents and purposes, said playing football is dangerous to your health.

It came in the form of a new concussion policy, as the industry of football struggles with ways to manage the human carnage that we all so love myself included to watch.

The league and the NFL Players Association made the joint announcement Monday that they will increase the punishments and investigations into violations of the NFL’s game-day concussion protocol.

Those steps include fines that could go as high as $150,000 against the team and perhaps more if further violations are discovered.



Also, “If the commissioner determines that the club’s medical team failed to follow protocol because of competitive considerations, the club may be required to forfeit draft pick(s) and face additional fines exceeding amounts” set in the policy, the joint statement said.

According to ESPN, the league was forced into the stricter concussion protocol by the union’s threat to claim medical malpractice against team doctors and league neurologists assigned to games.

It’s nice to know the league has the interests of its players at heart.

This is a win for the union, and there is no such thing as a small win for the NFL Players Association, which has taken its lumps lately amidst the multi-million guaranteed contracts that were handed out in the NBA — guarantees that don’t exist, for the most part, in the NFL.

No players union has a tougher job fighting for its members than the NFL Players Association because of the nature of the sport and those who participate in it. Nobody is promised tomorrow on a football field. That is the leverage the league will always have over the union in any so-called labor war.

Players fear for their jobs and livelihoods every day, because they can disappear with one tackle or even one wrong step in a conditioning workout. You need look no further than the developments at Redskins Park on Monday — the same day the new concussion protocol was released — to see the evidence of how precarious life is in the NFL.

Redskins linebacker Junior Galette, recovering from a torn left Achilles tendon last August and primed to return to the field for the opening of training camp this week, tore his right Achilles tendon and is likely out of action for a second consecutive season.

On the same day, safety Kyshoen Jarrett was waived after the Redskins said he failed a physical. Jarrett, the 2015 sixth-round pick out of Virginia Tech who became a valuable part of the Washington defense in his rookie season, suffered a nerve injury against the Dallas Cowboys in the final regular-season game of the year and has been unable to regain strength in his right arm.

One season with promise, and now what?

In May, Galette told reporters that “having a year off from football, something I love to do and is my passion, you just got that hunger. I feel like I’m an undrafted rookie all over again with something to prove to myself.”

Passion. Something to prove.

Now imagine if the NFL Players Association were to go to war with the league in the next bargaining agreement for more security and more protections, and NFL owners, as they have in the past, locked their doors and told the players to stay away until they’re ready to play under the conditions the owners demand of them.

You think Galette is going to give up precious time on a potentially short career to stand in a picket line?

Maybe Tom Brady, who signed a two-year extension in March with a $28 million signing bonus, or Aaron Rodgers, who signed a contract in 2013 with more than $62 million in guaranteed money, will stand firm.

But most of the NFL is made up of guys fighting for jobs, seeing their career mortality with each Achilles tendon tear. The very mentality of a football player is to compete for your job every season, or else they will find someone younger and cheaper to plug in. And you’re going to ask these guys to give up playing time for the greater good of the union?

That’s a tough ask, and for the NFL Players Association to have gotten what they have out of the owners — a split of between 47 percent and 48.5 percent of all league revenue, among other concessions is quite the accomplishment. Heck, the players had to temporarily disband as a union to get the courts to declare the 2011 NFL lockout illegal.

The new concussion protocol the union secured is to protect the players from themselves as much as it is from coaches and doctors.

Wes Welker suffered at least six known concussions in his 12-year career, including three in a span of nine months and two in a period of three weeks. Yet he told reporters in January of this year that he can’t wait to get back on the field again for the now-Los Angeles Rams after signing a one-year deal in November and playing the final eight games of the season.

“Yeah, I was happy to get to play football again,” Welker told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “That was the No. 1 thing. Getting back out there, and being around the guys, and being in the locker room. And just being around football again. I missed it, and love being around the game.”

Now a free agent, Welker has made $41 million in 12 NFL seasons. You think he is going to willingly sacrifice a single game to sing, “We shall overcome?”

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