Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Forward (I)

Before going any further, I wish the best to all of you as 2008 gets underway. 2007 represented a year of progression for me professionally as well as personally. It seemed as if ’07 was a year of redemption and resurgence from the black hole that was 2006. Despite some bumps in the road regardless of the date on the calendar, I am fortunate to have family and friends who continue to support my endeavors and passions. I believe deeply that 2008 will work from those building blocks for me and, more importantly, those around me.

I extend a hearty thanks to those of you who follow my work on Scribe as well as in the traditional world through WHCR and the New York Beacon. 2008 will be an expansion of those efforts to provide you with so much more than before.

That said, the new year bring about new questions in sports. Instead of a rather lengthy entry, this will be a series called Forward that will stretch into January 8th. Today, the series starts with the National Football League.

Our bodies and mental states will still tell us that 2007 was moments ago, though the calendar has changed throughout all time zones. It’s hard to say “last year” when you say anything without realizing that 2006 is no longer that point of reference. Yet no matter how much joy or pain that came between January 1, 2007 and December 31, 2007, we all hope to move forward and prepare for the next 366 days.

Moving forward from what had been a very exciting, but simultaneously troubling 2007 will involve answering the most daunting questions sports have faced in recent memory. It will also involve trying to bring the focus to the fields of play themselves with captivating play, flirtations with history and the emergence of new stars.

The questions in this series do not range in a specific order of importance or timeliness. Rather, they come from somewhere beneath the glitz, glamour and gluttony of snarky BS around us.

NFL: How can we protect our investments? Today marks the dawn of a new year, but it also serves as a reminder of the first major story of yesteryear. The murder of Denver Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams just hours after his team was eliminated from playoff contention still rattles the minds of so many players and likely Denver residents. The Broncos franchise also dealt with the passing of reserve running back Damien Nash weeks later. The New England Patriots also dealt with loss; Marquise Hill, a reserve defensive end who had devoted much of his time helping residents rebuild in a post-Katrina New Orleans, died in a jetski accident shortly after saving the life of his friend.

The NFL had never dealt with the passing of active players in this magnitude. While it was evident that the league had been making a push to distance itself from the Michael Vick saga, its officials have always been trying to find a way to protect players without completely restricting their personal freedoms. Outside of Nash’s death (collapsing while playing basketball at a charity event in his brother’s honor), the deaths of the other players spoke to the biggest fears of athletes and extracurricular activities. Professional athletes tend to be the biggest targets of the shadiest bunch, whether it’s from jealousy or a desire to attain some power. You hear about incidents at a nightclub with famous individuals rather than the ordinary individual and this alarms general managers, owners and commissioners alike.

In the case of Hill, it could be somewhat reminiscent of several athletes who own seemingly dangerous vehicles like ATVs, motorcycles (former Chicago Bull Jason Williams, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger) or jetskis. It shakes executives so much that they insists on clauses in player contracts that prohibit the use of those vehicles (for example, Jeff Kent of the Los Angeles Dodgers).

All of this came to mind prior to the most jarring moment in recent league history; the murder of Sean Taylor. As discussed in Profound, all of the players died at the age of 24.

Between guns and riptides, it had been a tumultuous 2007 for the NFL. Now as the playoffs loom and the league prepares for its grand celebration in February, there will be reflections on a season passed. There will be discussions of how the leagues machinations such as the competition committee may take a look at possible rule changes and how the former players will push the union and league for increased benefits. Yet, something that should be under further review will be how to strike a balance between a player’s freedom and a team’s investment. Athletes are human and are entitled to a night out on the town; however, a team shouldn’t have to worry about their players in the realm of the unknown. The question of how – or even if – still needs to be addressed.

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