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The Killer Inside Doc tells a dark tale of brain trauma

The new documentary series of former NFL tight end Aaron Hernandez is eye-opening on many levels. It tracks the rise, fall and eventual suicide in 2017 after his 2014 conviction for murdering Odin Lloyd. The film features interviews with teammates, journalists covering Hernandez, his defense lawyer as well as friends and family.

The major revelation after the suicide was the autopsy that found that Hernandez suffered from a severe case of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), which is caused by repeated injuries to the head often found in football players but also those involved in boxing, hockey, professional wrestling, rugby, and soccer. This neurodegenerative disease is now known to inhibit brain function and impulse control.

NCAA allows elite athletes to secure support for expenses and training

Financial compensation for athletes under the NCAA governance is now a reality thanks to California’s Fair Pay to Play Act, which prompted the NCAA to update its archaic policies in 2019. Ostensibly this means payment for athletes playing Division 1 football and basketball for their contributions to billion-dollar industries by enabling them to legally capitalize on their name, image and likeness for business endorsements and other opportunities. Athletes in other sports will likely do so as well, particularly those elite athletes who compete in Olympic and Paralympic sports while also representing universities.

New benefits for elite athletes

Antonio Brown faces more trouble

No one is going to argue that talented NFL wide receiver Antonio Brown is his own worst enemy. His career is marked by questionable judgment, erratic behavior on and off the field, and, seemingly, attempts to sabotage a lucrative football career. This has led both a former agent and the mother of his three children to question his mental health. Some have even questioned whether Brown's behavior could be related to CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), where repeated trauma to the head inhibits normal brain function and impulse control.

The latest chapter involves Brown arrested for a charge of felony burglary with battery, which has a potential life in prison sentence if convicted. The incident in question involved a truck driver moving Brown's possessions to his home in the Miami area.

MLB announces Red Sox investigation

Baseball has a particular appreciation for stealing bases or taking advantage when a pitcher tips their pitches. However, digitally assisted sign-stealing using replay technology is where it draws the line since Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred sent out a memo on this matter in September of 2017.

The MLB just finished an in-depth three-month investigation where the Houston Astros in 2017 and 2018 allegedly used their replay monitors to analyze an opponent’s sign sequencing; that investigation led to general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch each being suspended without pay for the 2020 season (after which they were dismissed by the Astros), and the Astros’ forfeiture of their first- and second-round picks in the 2020 and 2021 MLB Drafts. Current rules forbid players and coaches from using electronic means now available on replay monitors to decode signs during the game. Manfred will announce the findings regarding the Houston case in January of 2020.

Super Bowl sees its first female and openly gay coach

Football fans outside of the Bay Area likely became acquainted with 49ers offensive assistance Katie Sowers due to a new national ad selling Microsoft’s Surface Pro 7 tablets during playoff games. Now with the 49ers win over the Packers, Sowers will be the first woman and openly LGBT coach to work the Super Bowl on February 2 in Miami.

Sowers works with the team’s skill position players and has contributed to the team’s offensive firepower this season, which is second in rushing and second in points scored. "She’s been tremendous," quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo told reporters about Sowers after the team’s 37-20 victory in the NFC championship game over the Packers. "Katie was here before I was, but just what she does with the receivers, all the skill position guys, how she interacts with them. It’s fun to be around."

NFL has a minority leadership gap

The 2019 NFL regular season has drawn to a close. While some teams move on to the playoffs, a handful of others not playing in January have already opted to change head coaches and general managers in hopes of improving. This is a standard operating procedure in the NFL. What many found upsetting, however, was the lack of minorities hired to fill these four positions – the well-established Ron Rivera, who is Hispanic, was the only minority hire.

Despite black players dominating the league since the ‘70s, critics complain that there are few blacks or minorities in the NFL’s leadership positions. Art Shell was the first black head coach when the Raiders hired him in 1989. Soon Dennis Green, Tony Dungy and others followed. However, critics argue that there have been too few and those hired have been fired more quickly than their white counterparts – Tony Dungy was famously fired by the Buccaneers in 2002 after rebuilding that team so John Gruden could ride it to a Superbowl win the following year. Of course, Dungy eventually won it all with the Colts before retiring.

Racist chants becoming all too common in European soccer

Many celebrate soccer as the true global team sport. Yet an international cast of players who move from country to country and team to team find themselves embroiled in a cultural shift towards nationalist pride and racial intolerance. It manifests itself in offensive chants meant to antagonize the players (sometimes even ones on the teams they are there to support). There have been various examples, but a particularly offensive one involves a monkey chant directed at players of African ancestry.  

This behavior is most prevalent in European countries, and is hardly new:  in 2005, French star Thierry Henry started a campaign to encourage fans to speak up against racist abuse in stadiums. One recent example includes a match in Bulgaria where the English national team went so far as to walk off the pitch.

NBA player suspended for two games for going into the stands

The public discourse around the world in recent years has become increasingly confrontational. While European soccer wrestles with issues of racist chats, players on sports teams here in North America have also seen a substantial increase in incidents of bad behavior by fans at the game. This is particularly the case in the NBA. Players typically may not even hear the comments or choose to ignore them, but sometimes the comments are so offensive that they are impossible to overlook.

Washington Wizards guard Isaiah Thomas made a stand against this kind of misbehavior during a game in Philadelphia last December. Thomas broke an NBA rule by consciously entering the stands to confront two fans who admitted to directing aggressive gestures and foul language at him while shooting free throws.

Are players protected?

Boston Celtics player Marcus Smart recently made national news. Unfortunately, it was not for his play, but for comments by a fan during a November 23 game against the Denver Nuggets. Smart was chasing a loose ball along the sideline and got his foot tangled in the frame of a courtside chair. He then heard the comment from a fan. "That's right, stay on the ground, get on your knees."

Smart told reporters post-game Friday night that his response was "Excuse me?" He then told the fan, "Listen, just watch the game because if we retaliate to you guys and if we were on the street, I guarantee you wouldn't say that." He complained to arena security, who listened to him, but according to Smart did not even say anything to the fan.

Sexual assault accusations force out Yale soccer coach

The #metoo movement has led to the downfall of high-profile celebrities, politicians and sports professionals. It is more than a decade old now, yet the survivors continue to identify perpetrators at all levels, sometimes for actions they committed years earlier. Institutions are aware of this cultural shift, yet they sometimes fail to identify candidates for past transgressions.

Such is the case for Yale’s women’s soccer coach Brendan Faherty, who resigned (or was fired) in mid-November after 12 months on the job. This was in response to the school’s newspaper reporting (and subsequent reporting by major news organizations) on Faherty’s behavior when he coached at the University of New Haven (UNH) a decade earlier.

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