Beebe, Holecek recall pain of the game

766588.png

Beebe, Holecek recall pain of the game

Don Beebe and John Holecek played high school, college and professional football for more than 15 years. They still have their wits about them, but they vividly acknowledge how the violence of the game has tragically affected the lives of former teammates, mentally and physically.

Beebe, a wide receiver who played in six Super Bowls during a nine-year NFL career, recalls playing for the Green Bay Packers in a game in 1996 in which he sustained a dinger in the head in the first quarter, was knocked out cold in the second quarter and taken to the locker room, then returned in the third quarter and caught a 65-yard touchdown pass from Brett Favre.

"If that had happened today, the Packers would have been fined by the league," Beebe said. "I suffered six major concussions. I was knocked out cold and dinged many times, severe swelling to the head, dizziness, blurred vision, waking up and not knowing where you are. But guys I know and talk to regularly are doing fine. I don't know anyone who isn't doing well.

"But I don't want to make light of what has happened, the lawsuits against the NFL, the documented cases of dementia, the deaths of Dave Duerson and Junior Seau. We need to teach kids at a young age the better techniques of tackling and not to use their heads as weapons."

Holecek, a linebacker who played in the NFL for eight years, cites a former teammate with the New England Patriots, Ted Johnson, a linebacker who played 10 years in the NFL and retired after the 2005 season after sustaining many concussions.

In 2007, it was reported that Johnson suffers from amphetamine addiction, depression and headaches related to post-concussion syndrome. He placed some blame on Bill Belichick, his former coach, for pressuring him to participate in full contact practice drills three days after suffering a concussion in an exhibition game in 2002. He shows early signs of Alzheimer's disease.

"(Johnson) was the type of guy who led with his head and destroyed blocks with his head. He used his head as a weapon," Holecek said. "He isn't doing well. I never saw anyone play more physical and use his head as a weapon. He used to break face masks. Others hated to pay against him. I'm not surprised that he has had head injury problems."

So how have those daunting experiences and memories affected their lives as head football coaches at the high school level?

Beebe, who guided Aurora Christian to the Class 3A championship last year, is preparing for his ninth season as head coach. His son Chad, a wide receiver, has scholarship offers from Northern Illinois and Illinois State. He is 5-foot-8 and weighs 165 pounds, a tad smaller than his father was when he graduated from Kaneland High School. He was sidelined for much of last season with a broken collarbone.

"If it ever got to the point where Chad was scared to play or scared of getting a concussion, I wouldn't let him play. He has no fear at all. You can't play scared. But you can play smart, especially as a wide receiver or running back," Beebe said.

"I have changed as a coach. I know what a concussion looks like. I won't let a kid practice (if he has concussion symptoms) until he is cleared by a doctor. If I see a kid in practice or a game tackling with his head and not his shoulder pads, I correct him right away, just as if his footwork was wrong on a block. You have to teach proper technique in tackling."

Beebe is very careful about being too physical in practice. His players never tackle to the ground in practice. In fact, they don't engage in much contact at all prior to games. "You don't have to have contact every day in practice. You can do what you need to accomplish by talking to a kid. You don't have to prove it every day in practice," he said.

Holecek, who coached Loyola to second place in the Class 8A playoff last year, is looking ahead to his seventh season at the Wilmette school. He acknowledges that parents are more concerned about the safety of the game. As a parent and coach, so is he.

"I came from the old-school mentality. In my day, if you got knocked out, you came to and went back into the game. Today, if you have concussion symptoms, you won't play," he said. "The game is a lot safer now. There is more knowledge available. Parents must evaluate the coaches and programs, if the equipment is safe. My son, a second-grader, wants to play football and I don't have a problem with him playing."

Holecek has changed his approach to the game. Last year, his team tackled in practice only twice. No more Oklahoma drills, no unnecessary contact, no live tackling during the summer or during the season. He still recalls, in his first season, how future Penn State running back Joe Suhey, son of former Chicago Bear Matt Suhey, was injured in a drill that Holecek later admitted didn't need to be run.

"I changed a few years ago because we didn't want to lose our best players in practice," Holecek said. "I think the information on concussions has changed everybody. It is a completely different game than 10 years ago. I don't want kids to get hurt on the practice field. We want to limit chance of injury to games only. Sure, you can't avoid everything. But I think proper teaching and technique is key. You can avoid head injuries with proper technique."

That said, Beebe and Holecek want to remind parents, media and others who rush to judgment and claim that the game is too violent and the high school version can't be compared to college and the NFL, where the participants are bigger, stronger, faster and more violent.

"Parents don't hesitate to hand their car keys to a 16-year-old. What is the percentage who get into car accidents? But of all the boys who play high school football, what is the percentage who get concussions? What is the percentage of kids becoming dysfunctional from a concussion? And how many are dysfunctional in life? Remember, very few of those kids go on to play in college and the NFL," Beebe said.

"We blow it out of proportion. Personally, I think we sensationalize the big hits and they become more publicized in the NFL and it trickles down to the high schools."

Holecek said "there is no doubt that back in the day the NFL wasn't upfront with information about head injuries, that the league didn't disclose the risk and the long-term effects of concussions and head trauma. Now it is an issue that the league must take very seriously."

As former players, however, Beebe and Holecek wonder if there isn't more to it than the physical aspect. After all, they argue, what happened to the football players who wore leather helmets? Remember Red Grange and Bronko Nagurski and Tommy Harmon? Did they suffer concussions? Did they suffer head trauma that developed into dementia? Did they consider suicide?

"Think about it," Beebe said. "You're a kid in your 20s. You are a super star, at the top of the world. You feel emotions that a normal person can never feel. Everybody wants a piece of you. Then it is taken away from you at a young age, in your early 30s. What do you do? What do you turn to?

"It has been reported that 90 percent of all NFL players who earned 15 million in their careers are bankrupt. That will cause depression. To me, that's the biggest culprit. You are the center of attention for so many years. Then it's all gone and you can't handle it emotionally. You don't know what to do with your life anymore."

Veteran outfielder Peter Bourjos eyes role with White Sox

Veteran outfielder Peter Bourjos eyes role with White Sox

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- As he surveyed the landscape this offseason, Peter Bourjos thought he and the White Sox would make for a good fit.

Adam Eaton had been traded and Austin Jackson departed via free agency, leaving the White Sox with Melky Cabrera and several young players to man a thin outfield. Bourjos, who lived in Chicago until second grade, pursued the White Sox and last month agreed to terms on a minor-league deal in hopes of earning a spot on the Opening Day roster. Last season, Bourjos, who was born in Chicago, hit .251/.292/.389 with five home runs and 23 RBIs in 383 plate appearances for the Philadelphia Phillies.

“I always liked playing in Chicago,” Bourjos said. “It was a good fit and then spring training is here. I have two young kids. So packing them up and going to Florida wasn’t something I wanted to do either.

“We definitely look at all those options on paper. Evaluate what might be the best chance of making a team and this is definitely one of them. It seems like a good fit on paper.”

If he’s healthy enough, Charlie Tilson will get the first crack at the everyday job in center field. Tilson, who missed the final two months of last season with a torn hamstring, is currently sidelined for 10 days with foot problems. Beyond Tilson, the White Sox have prospects Adam Engel and Jacob May with Cabrera slated to start in left field and Avisail Garcia pegged for right. Leury Garcia is also in the mix.

But there still appears to be a good shot for Bourjos to make the club and manager Rick Renteria likes his veteran presence for the young group. Bourjos has accrued six seasons of service time between the Phillies, Los Angeles Angels and St. Louis Cardinals.

“Bourjy has been around,” Renteria said. “He knows what it takes. He understands the little nuances of major-league camp and how we have so many players and we want to give them all a look. We want to see Bourjos, we want to see him out there.”

Bourjos, who turns 30 in March, has an idea what he wants to do with his chance. A slick defensive outfielder, Bourjos wants to prove he’s a better hitter than his .243/.300/.382 slash line would suggest. He said it’s all about being relaxed.

“Offensively just slow everything down and not try to do too much,” Bourjos said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself and it hasn’t translated. I think last year I got in a spot where I just tried to relax in the batter’s box and let everything go and what happened happened. I had success with that.

“I now realize what that feels like and it doesn’t work. Just take a deep breath and be relaxed in the box and good things are going to happen.”

Why Brett Anderson called Cubs fans ‘f------ idiots’ and loves the idea of pitching at Wrigley Field

Why Brett Anderson called Cubs fans ‘f------ idiots’ and loves the idea of pitching at Wrigley Field

MESA, Ariz. – On an October night where you could literally feel Wrigley Field shaking, Brett Anderson fired off a message on his personal Twitter account: "Real classy cubs fans throwing beer in the Dodgers family section. Stay classy f------ idiots."
 
The Cubs had just clinched their first National League pennant since the year World War II ended, beating Clayton Kershaw and playing as close to a perfect game as they had all season. Anderson kept up the entertaining commentary during the World Series, previewing Game 7 – "We can all agree that we're happy it's not Joe West behind the plate tomorrow" – and tweaking his future manager: "Aroldis (Chapman) might puke on the mound from exhaustion." 
 
In another generation, a veteran pitcher might walk into a new clubhouse and wonder about any awkwardness with a hitter he once drilled with a fastball or some bad blood from a bench-clearing brawl. But overall today's players share the same agents, work out together in the same warm-weather offseason spots and understand the transient nature of this business. When pregame batting practice is filled with fist bumps, bro hugs and small talk between opponents, it becomes trying to remember what you said on social media. 
 
"I'm kind of a sarcastic ass on Twitter," Anderson said Monday. "I kind of sit back and observe. I'm not a huge talker in person. But I can kind of show some of my personality and candor on some of those things.
 
"You look at stuff (when) you get to a new team. I'm like: ‘Wow, man, did I say anything about anybody that's going to piss them off?' But I think the only thing I said about the players is that Kyle (Hendricks) looks like he could have some Oreos and milk after pitching in the World Series. 
 
"But that's kind of the guy he is. Just the calmness that he shows is something that we can all try to strive for."
 
Anderson essentially broke the news of his signing – or at least tipped off the media to look for confirmations – with a "Wheels up to Chicago" tweet in late January. The Cubs guaranteed $3.5 million for the chance to compete against Mike Montgomery and see which lefty can grab the fifth-starter job. Anderson could max out with $6.5 million more in incentives if he makes 29 starts this season. 
 
After undergoing surgery to repair a bulging disc in his lower back last March, Anderson made three starts and didn't earn a spot on the NLCS roster.  
 
"I obviously wasn't in the stands," Anderson said. "Supposedly from what I was told – it could be a different story – but there was just some beers thrown on where the families were. I'm going to stick to my family and my side.  
 
"I wasn't calling out the whole stadium. (It wasn't): ‘Screw you, Cubs fans.' It was just the specific (incident) – whoever threw the beers on the family section. Everybody has their fans that are kind of rowdy and unruly.

[SHOP: Get your Cubs gear right here] 
 
"That just happened to be a situation. But you like those people on your side. I played in Oakland, and they had some of the rowdiest fans. In the playoffs, it seemed like ‘The Black Hole' for the Raiders games.
 
"You have your bad seeds in every fan base. When people are rowdy and cheering on their team and have one too many beers, the next thing you know, you're throwing them.
 
"Just visiting (Wrigley), it's a fun crowd, because it's such an intimate setting and you feel like they're right on top of you and it's so loud." 
 
Imagine the matchup nightmare the Dodgers could've been if their pitching staff hadn't been so top-heavy and manager Dave Roberts could've confidently gone to someone other than Kershaw, Rich Hill or closer Kenley Jansen. The Dodgers had made Anderson the qualifying offer after a solid 2015 season – 10-9, 3.69 ERA, 180-plus innings, a 66.7 groundball percentage – and he grabbed the $15.8 million guarantee. 
 
Anderson turned around and did the knock-on-wood motion at his locker, saying he felt good after completing a bullpen session with catcher Willson Contreras at the Sloan Park complex. Anderson is a Tommy John survivor who's also gone on the disabled list for a stress fracture in his right foot, a broken left index finger and a separate surgery on his lower back.
 
"Yeah, it's frustrating," Anderson said. "When I'm healthy and able to go out there and do my work, I feel like I'm a pretty good pitcher. I don't think I've ever been able to put everything as a whole together in one season. I've had some good spots – and some good seasons here and there – but hopefully I can put it all together and have a healthy season and do my part."
 
The Cubs are such a draw that Shane Victorino signed a minor-league deal here last year – even with more than $65 million in career earnings and even after a fan dumped a beer on him while he tried to catch a flyball at Wrigley Field in 2009.   
 
Anderson wanted to play for a winner and understood the organization's pitching infrastructure. He saw his pitching style as a match for the unit that led the majors in defensive efficiency last year. He was even intrigued by Camp Maddon and the wacky stunts in Mesa.  
 
"It's obviously an uber-talented group," Anderson said. "(It's also) seeing the fun that they're having. I'm more on the calm and cerebral side, but I think doing some of the things that these guys have in store for me will hopefully open me up a little bit and break me out of my shell. 
 
"'Uncomfortable' is a good word, especially for me. You don't want to get complacent. You don't want to get used to rehab. You want to go out there and do new things and try new things and meet new people and have new experiences. All things considered, the Cubs offered the best mix of everything."