Frankie O: Moment of truth

Frankie O: Moment of truth

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

Death is always shocking, even if its expected and especially when it is not. The hope is that we all can live a long and fruitful existence and be able to look back over many decades as we reflect on the impact that our lives have had. Eight or nine would be nice. Im not too greedy. But, unfortunately, thats not how it always happens. Pick up a paper or watch the TV news any day of the week to realize that.

Upon turning on my TV on Wednesday, I learned of the apparent suicide of former NFL great Junior Seau. Sadly, another athletic hero is gone way too soon. The first question in this case is always the same: Why? For most of us, the thought of choosing not to live is against every instinct that drives us to be who we are. The thing that makes me especially sad is to wonder about what must be going on in a persons mind to get to the conclusion that death is the way out.

I say this as someone who has lost a loved one in a similar way. As I struggled to come to grips with the reality that I was forced to deal with, what I came to understand was that I did not understand. Depression and its effects are as devastating as any illness that we have to deal with. The problem is that unlike a broken bone or cancerous growth, its existence is not always as obvious. Sadly, many times before something can be done, a lethal chain of events has been set in motion.

I dont know anything about Seau personally, but I do remember last year when he accidentally drove of a 30-foot cliff after an argument with his girlfriend. His excuse for that was that he fell asleep. I always thought that as odd since arguments with girlfriends usually made me not be able to sleep. (Not that Ive had many!) I know Im probably jumping to a conclusion, but that is how this works. We always look backward to find clues to make sense of whats happened. This is hard to figure out even if youre close to someone. Although, in a lot of cases, those close know something is different, they just dont know how to react. This was a position I was in. Just because you know something is broke doesnt mean you know how to fix it.

For a sports fan now, we are becoming very aware of the consequences being paid by those whove entertained us for so long. The discussion has to be held about the price being paid by those who play and have played.

The issue of concussions in sports is growing out of control, or should I say, the repercussions from concussions is. Safety issues have been a major topic of discussion by those who run the NFL and NHL, the most physical of the sports we watch. So much so that even casual fans know about the problem, or at least, the sensationalized incidences that have prompted the attention.

Athletes seem to be taking their own lives at an alarming rate. Seaus death has rekindled the public debate that had died down a little since last summer when former Bear Dave Duerson shot himself in the chest and three current and former NHL tough guys left us within 4 months of each other.

That introduced us to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. (CTE) CTE is a progressive degenerative disease found in individuals who have been subject to multiple concussions and other forms of head injury. Individuals with CTE may show symptoms of dementia, such as memory loss, aggression, confusion and depression, which may appear within months of the trauma or decades later.

Reports of CTE have steadily increased in younger athletes, most likely due to the fact that athletes are getting bigger and stronger producing a greater magnitude of force in collisions.

In 2008 The Boston University School of Medicine along with the Sports Legacy Institute worked together to form the Center of the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. They have documented over 70 cases of CTE. Included in this are 15 out of 16 former NFL players and 4 out of 6 from the NHL. (This included the late Bob Probert.) That is a staggering percentage. But unfortunately, the disease can only be diagnosed at this time with a post mortem biopsy.

Which is another way of saying: too late.

I remember as a kid playing football that at an early age I was taught to tackle by spearing. Looking back, Im lucky to still be walking. As you got older, it was almost shameful to be hurt, especially with an injury that no one could see. I can only imagine the pressure put on a pro athlete to get back in there.

But as a young kid, we dont know any better, then, we spend a large part of our early adulthood feeling invincible. It takes a while for us to truly comprehend what it is we are doing. I guess that what being old is for: To yell, Stop! Youre going to hurt yourself! And since Im old, I guess thats what Im doing here.

The conflict is that I love my sports. But should it be a conflict at all? I have no problem with the fact that life happens. We are not going to be able to control everything. But the NFL and NHL have a problem and it needs to be dealt with soon.

In NASCAR, it took the death of Dale Earnhardt to realize that they could make their sport safer, that it wasnt worth dying for. Now they have better driver restraint systems( the Hans device), soft-walls and the Car-of-Tomorrow. Radical, costly steps. But they seem to be working, since there have been no fatalities on the top circuit since Earnhardts.

In the NFL, Roger Goodell has started to crack down on player safety, and crack down hard. Personally, Im not sure about his motivation, since there is a major class-action lawsuit started by former players last summer (and adding more players daily, over 1500 at this point) claiming that the NFL was negligent in telling the players about the dangers of concussions. I think this already has presented itself as a game change. Ask James Harrison or the New Orleans Saints what they think.

But NFL football is always going to have inherent risks and there are years of macho thought processes to deal with, I wont even get into the blood-lust of the fandom.
Remember also, we live in a time where Major League Baseball players wont wear a helmet that will better protect themselves against 100 mph fastballs whizzing by their ears because the helmets arent, ahem, cool. You can only do so much.

Where this is going to come down eventually is on the parents of young athletes. They are the ones that can fight to make to make things safer. But here also, is a problem, since we cant seem to get our act together with aluminum baseball bats in youth baseball and softball.

I still hold out hope.

It all starts with a discussion, which hopefully starts a movement. Or its going to take something to get our attention in an over-the top way like Earnhardts death did.

But again, in this case of dealing with concussions and there aftermath, we are dealing with something that is hard for people to quantify, especially when it sometimes takes years to manifest.

All I know is that when I heard the news I was sad. And I thought it had something to do with the 20 years of professional football collisions that he had endured. I thought of this because I remembered Dave Duerson. Maybe they are related, maybe not, but both left us way too soon and I still cant help feeling there was something that someone could have done to prevent it. And speaking as someone who knows, their families arent going to ever get over that any time soon.

For Notre Dame, prepare like a champion maybe 'should be our new mantra’

For Notre Dame, prepare like a champion maybe 'should be our new mantra’

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The “Play Like a Champion Today” sign in the cramped stairwell from the home locker room to the tunnel at Notre Dame Stadium has been a staple of tradition on this campus for decades. But at 1-3, maybe the 2016 Irish need to change that slogan a bit. 

“You have to put everything that you can into each drill, each snap, each everything in this game,” offensive lineman and captain Mike McGlinchey said. “You can't overlook any detail. You can't leave any stone left unturned. It's so important that you prepare as a champion just as much as you want to play like one. And maybe that should be our new mantra.”

Notre Dame has had 10 underclassmen or first-time starters make starts this year, with a host of other inexperienced players seeing significant playing time, too. Right now, the team’s 1-3 record — with that only win coming over an entirely overmatched Nevada side — is a stern reminder of how sub-standard practices during the week can affect what happens on Saturday. 

“You wake up pretty fast when you're 1 and 3,” McGlinchey said. “… What we have felt that good preparation is hasn't been good enough, and we will continue to ramp that up and continue to fight for the best play that we can. And it's about getting that understanding throughout the entire football team, whether you're a freshman or a fifth-year senior, that preparation is the most important thing in this game, and games aren't won on Saturdays in September. They're won in January in the weight room or in the summer doing your drills. And then each week it's won Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday when you're on the practice field. So if you can prepare the right way, prepare harder with the guys that we have on our team, I'm pretty confident that we can get our jobs done a little bit better.”

Linebacker and captain James Onwualu agreed with McGlinchey’s assessment. 

“We've always tried to prepare to the best of our ability,” Onwualu said. “We practice hard. I think it's just the fact that we need to start practicing a little bit smarter, and the coaches have made a couple of changes, like I said, so practices are a little bit different. Still practicing with great intensity and continuing to push these younger guys to focus in on their job.”

For Notre Dame, everything is on the table when all of a sudden bowl eligibility could be at stake. Including even tweaking, for themselves, one of college football’s most famous sayings. 

Cubs, Theo Epstein agree to five-year contract extension

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Cubs, Theo Epstein agree to five-year contract extension

PITTSBURGH - On the verge of what could become a historic run through October and a period of sustained excellence at Wrigley Field, Theo Epstein has signed a five-year contract extension that will keep him overseeing baseball operations for the Cubs.

While no one expected Epstein to bolt from the best team in baseball and a comfortable family situation on the North Side, the president could have become a free agent and disrupted what's now regarded as a model organization in professional sports.

Epstein initially signed a five-year deal worth $18.5 million in October 2011, seeking a new challenge and a fresh start after building two World Series winners for the Boston Red Sox.

Through a series of shrewd trades, first-round picks and free-agent megadeals, Epstein has turned around a 101-loss team in 2012 and constructed a World Series favorite that has already won 101 games and a National League Central title this year.

Epstein and chairman Tom Ricketts are expected to speak with the media before Wednesday night's game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.

“In the five years under Theo’s leadership, he has brought in a strong executive team and acquired and developed some of the best players in the game," Ricketts said in a statement. "Now, the results are on the field.  My family and I have no doubt that we have moved closer to our goal of delivering Cubs fans the World Series championship they deserve.

"(This) ensures the baseball operations team assembled by Epstein will continue its remarkable tenure of building a consistent championship contender.”