Seau still impacting the NFL a year after his death

Scott Kitun/The Medillian

Scott Kitun/The Medillian

Former San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau committed suicide in May by shooting himself in the chest. Seau’s family donated portions of his brain to the National Institutes of Health where scientists detected chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. Similarly, Dave Duerson, former Chicago Bears defensive back committed suicide in 2011 by shooting himself in the chest. He asked his family to have his brain examined for CTE, and the disease was found.

Now Seau’s family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit in California Superior Court that may pave the way for similar litigation. It comes on top of more than 140 concussion lawsuits involving more than 3,300 players that have been filed against National Football League, the most lucrative sports league in the country.

In August, attorneys for the NFL asked the judge to dismiss all of the lawsuits but nobody thinks the issue is anywhere close to being resolved.

Chicago-based attorney Nicholas Hobart, who is not a party to any of the cases, said NFL officials believe the suits involving concussions should be handled through an arbitration process, not in court.

“The NFL is trying to get all of these lawsuits dismissed by arguing that they don’t belong in the courts in the first place,” Hobart said. “It argues that federal labor law preempts the state law claims and that they actually fall under the [collective bargaining agreement]. Therefore, arbitration is proper.”

Hobart said the Seau family’s lawsuit will likely be consolidated with the remaining suits. And if the NFL’s motion to dismiss fails, “it will still be years before any kind of trial or resolution occurs due to the magnitude of discovery.”

Meanwhile, the players and their families contend the league was negligent by not protecting players from severe injury. Their position has been and continues to be that the league knew or should have known of the dangers associated with repeated concussions.

Currently, CTE can only be detected after death. In an American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry study, deposits of tau, a protein that forms over damaged brain cells, was more prominent in brains of five former NFL players including Seau and Duerson than it was in the brains of five non-NFL players.

But detecting CTE in living individuals may be possible in the near future,
according to Dr. Julian Bailes at Evanston’s NorthShore Neurological Institute.

“It is the holy grail of CTE research to be able to identify those who are suffering from the [CTE] syndrome early, while they’re still alive,” Bailes said. “Discovering the effects of prior brain trauma earlier opens up possibilities for symptom treatment and prevention.”

If CTE could be identified in current players, it could have a major impact on their careers. Additionally, it could add fuel the filing of lawsuits against the NFL, which has an estimated value of $35 billion.

Such a medical advance also would likely force the league and its players to renegotiate their bargaining agreement to reflect the recognition of inherent risks of playing the game. Players would be able to have regular brain scans allowing them to formulate a benchmark that could help determine the actual damage their brain is sustaining.

Likewise, the league likely would take increased precautionary measures for concussions such as stricter tackling rules and potentially even widening the playing field. That would increase players’ room to run and possibly decrease the intensity of impacts, according to ESPN analyst and longtime team executive Bill Polian.

Prevention and symptom treatment would apply not only to professional players, but to children as well. Children as young as 5 years old in Pop Warner leagues are playing tackle football. But current professional players such as Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall believe Pop Warner leagues and the NFL already are working to make the sport safer.

“I think the steps the NFL [is] taking now with implementing rules in Pop Warner football, trying to show [children] how to properly tackle and protect themselves is the best thing for us moving forward,” Marshall said. “We do have to make the game safer, and I think the NFL is doing everything in their power to do that, not just on our level, but starting at the young age of 6 years old.”

Experts such as Chris Nowinski, former professional wrestler and co-founder of the Sports Legacy Institute, disagree. He argues the age requirement should be changed to reduce the likelihood of concussions in children.

“There probably should be a higher age to play contact football,” Nowinski said. “Certainly not 5 [years old], but maybe stretch it to 14. There’s a lot of logic to that because that’s when you start having access to athletic trainers. You have to set limits to exposure.”

Lawmakers have taken notice of the concussion problem and its relation to children. In Texas, the legislature passed a bill in 2011 requiring coaches and trainers in public schools to complete two hours of training in identifying concussions. The bill also requires that a player who exhibits concussion symptoms during a game must be examined and cleared by a physician before getting back onto the field.

Mike Harrison, head athletic trainer at Allen High School in Allen, Texas, believes the bill affects the likelihood of future lawsuits involving concussions with high school athletes.

“If you follow protocol and what’s represented by state law, I think you’ve done everything possible to decrease the possibility of liability and lawsuit there,” Harrison said. “I think that’s one thing that we do, and we’re fortunate to stay underneath the state law.”

Todd Kuska, head football coach St. Rita of Cascia High School in Chicago, believes the root of the concussion crisis begins with education, particularly in teaching young football players how to properly tackle. If those skills are taught, he believes it will reduce the risk of injuries and decrease the amount of lawsuits filed.

Professional players, he said, is a different story. “I don’t know what’s going to happen with those [NFL] lawsuits,” Kuska said.

The NFL has identified concussion prevention as important and continues to make changes to protect player safety. But the inherently violent nature of the game isn’t likely to change any time soon, experts say, and players are still motivated to hit as hard as possible.

“Obviously, things are different when you get to the NFL [with the] amounts of blows to the head…Those athletes are some of the strongest people in the world, and that causes more problems for them,” coach Kuska said. “Guys aren’t admitting they have a concussion because in the NFL, it’s their paycheck. It’s their job.”

Super Bowl ads reflect gender shift

The Super Bowl, traditionally the focal point of any good man-cave, is no longer just an interest of men. Last year, more than 51 million women tuned in to the event, making it a game changer for the NFL—and advertisers.

According to a recent survey by Advertising Age, 55 percent of American women watched at least one regular season NFL game last season, and women account for 20 percent of all fantasy football participants.

While the NFL has done its job, appealing to the female audience; it is now up to advertisers to deliver those fans to their clients. In order to capitalize on this growing fan base, advertisers must revisit the question, what do women want?

The answer appears to be more family fare.

Since 2004, NFL has been promoting more family-oriented half-time entertainment and fan attractions. It also recently launched a new line of women’s fan gear called, “It’s My Team.”

Some advertisers and their clients have also altered their audience approach by using cozy animals, talking babies. For example, the most popular Super Bowl advertisements as rated by USA Today’s “Ad Meter” include the E*Trade talking babies and the driving monkeys. 

Ads that include cleverness and humor are most appealing, a survey by PHD Worldwide Media, suggests. The survey also found that cute animals were a close second.

But that doesn’t mean advertisers are moving away from the idea that sex sells.

“Especially given the female viewership, advertisers have to be broadly acceptable without being polarizing,” said Tim Calkins, marketing professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. “Of course there are exceptions like that depend on being polarizing as part of their marketing strategy.”

Each year, companies such as Axe and rely on beautiful women to carry their campaigns, and this year will be no different. Mercedes Benz has partnered with model Kate Upton for a commercial that is sure to be a topic of discussion.

In the ad, the model is taunting a football team washing new Mercedes Benz C-Class in revealing attire for the entire 90 seconds of air-time.

 Upton/Benz screen grab“With fewer sex appeal ads running, it makes companies like separate themselves. It makes their sex-driven ads standout,” Calkins said. 

In general, “Marketers are very cautious about what they run,” Calkins said. The Super Bowl is almost as synonymous with flashy advertising as it is football. And, like the NFL, advertisers are quick to adapt to a changing audience.

More than half of all women polled in the PHD survey reported that Super Bowl advertisements using sex appeal equally targeted both genders. Seventy-four percent of women aged 18 to 34 said they liked the sexy images in the previous year’s Super Bowl advertisements, compared with 84 percent of men in the same age range. 

“Today women are increasingly owning their sexuality for themselves and thus women, particularly younger women, have little problem seeing empowering female sex appeal used in advertising,” said Emnos consultant Leah Wawrzyniak.

“Still, I would challenge advertisers to find a way to embrace female sexuality without the woman being a mindless servant or the man displayed as weak.”

Calkins said the bottom line is that “savvy marketers test everything.”

He referred to an ad that fans won’t see during this year’s Super Bowl.

“A testing process that just prevented Coca-Cola Co. from running a Super Bowl advertisement involving camels that has drawn a lot of criticism,” he said.

As for the Mercedes Benz ad, “You can safely assume it tested well in the marketplace prior to the Super Bowl,” Calkins said.

Most advertisers agree that nothing compares with the reach provided by the Super Bowl, which offers a rare opportunity to enter the household of more than 100 million viewers. For that reason, Super Bowl advertisers strive to create advertisements that are both memorable and relatable for a mass audience.

“As an advertiser, the best Super Bowl ad is the one that can broadly resonate with the most viewers,” he said.

Non-cash gifts key to Walter and Connie Payton Foundation success

By way of gifts, pledges and grants, the Walter and Connie Payton Foundation has nearly doubled its annual revenues since 2008.

Despite a struggling economy and dramatic reduction in government grants, the foundation has continued to grow and expand its charitable contributions annually, according to the organization’s financial filings.

“We know that everybody is feeling the economic pinch, but our donors seem to still be driven to support our city’s children, and that is beautiful,” assistant to Connie Payton, Kelly Woods, said.

From 2005 through 2008, the foundation generated $1.40 million in total revenue. They did so through federal grants totaling $780,000 and by coordinating toy drives throughout the city and suburbs.

However, 2009 turned out to be a banner year for the foundation as it generated $1.26 million, a whopping 42 percent jump over the prior year. And, the foundation did so despite receiving a 20 percent reduction in government grants from the $250,000 received in 2008.

* 2011 reported revenue subject to restatement

* 2011 reported revenue subject to restatement

“We really focused on fundraising events. We quadrupled our event fundraising in 2009,” Jarrett Payton added.
The $57,072 that the foundation raised in 2009, through two events: “The Sweetness Run” and “Sweetness Games Night,” was a 21 percent increase over the prior year.

But, the key contribution to the successful 2009 fiscal year for the foundation was its dramatic increase in non-cash gifts. The foundation more than tripled the $282,103 non-cash gifts received in 2008 to $968,129.

“I would say that we really began to get involved in the schools throughout the city and held more fundraising events, but the biggest contribution we got was when my mother [Connie Payton] went on to the Dr. Oz show,” Jarrett Payton said.

Connie Payton first represented the foundation in October 2006 on the “Meet The Peete’s” radio show, hosted by Rodney and Robinson Peete. Since then, the Payton family has been on “The Dr. Oz Show”, hosted by Dr. Mehmet Oz, each October to celebrate Cancer Awareness Month. “Meet The Peete’s” and “The Dr. Oz Show” are both produced by Oprah Winfrey’s Chicago-based Harpo Inc.

“I remember the weeks following Dr. Oz in 2007, we were getting so many calls that we had to hire another assistant,” Kelly Woods remembered.

From 2009 to 2011, the Walter and Connie Payton Foundation has maintained annual revenues of approximately $1.3 million, most of which still comes from noncash gifts and contributions.

“To date, my family’s foundation has raised over $5 million in toys, grants and school supplies to help Chicago’s underprivileged children,” Jarrett Payton said.


Scott Kitun/The Medillian

Scott Kitun/The Medillian

Each year St. Patrick High School, in Portage Park, and St. Viator High School, in northwest suburban Arlington Heights, compete to see who can collect the most toys for the annual Walter and Connie Payton Foundation Christmas Party.

This year is no different.

St. Patrick has outdueled St. Viator in the annual Christmas toy drive two of the past three years.

“Having played for St. Viator and competing against St. Pat’s and coach Galante, I am truly appreciative for everything they have done for my family and our foundation,” said Jarrett Payton, son of the Chicago Bears’ legendary running back Walter Payton.

Known by the nickname of “Sweetness,” for his graceful running style and generous personality, Walter Payton was well-known for giving back to the community and especially to the children, his son noted.

Following his passing in 1999, Connie and their children, Jarrett and Brittany, established the Walter and Connie Payton Foundation to carry on their father’s legacy of sweetness.

By hosting toy drives over the past decade, the foundation has provided Christmas joy for thousands of underprivileged children throughout the city of Chicago, Jarrett Payton said.

“I just remember as a little kid my dad letting me go to the toy store and fill up a cart with anything I wanted. Then he would pull into a poor neighborhood and just pop the trunk and I would look at him like he was crazy,” he said. “Then, he would look at me and explain what it meant to be blessed and how to bless others and we would give all the toys away. That’s how it all started.”

For the past four years the Gary family, of 686 Buena Vista Dr. in Glen Ellyn, has hosted an annual Christmas party for the Walter and Connie Payton Foundation.

Last year alone, St. Patrick’s helped to collect over 300 toys for the annual toy drive and already this year according to St. Patrick Principal Joe Schmidt, they are on pace to collect even more, having collected over 250 toys to date.

“The foundation is very dear to our hearts and this party is a thank you to all of those who get involved,” Christy Gary said Saturday evening at the party.

The growth of the foundation has relied on the effort of families such as the Gary’s and on schools such as St. Patrick High School and St. Viator, where Jarrett was a star football athlete at quarterback and running back before his pro days in the Canadian Football League and the NFL.

“We always had to face Jarrett and St. Viator in sports and I got to know Walter over the years. I grew to have such respect for him that we retired his jersey, number 34,” St. Pat’s Athletic Director, Brian Glorioso said.

“Actually, each year the boys that do the most community service get to wear number 34 for the day,” he added. “That’s the kind of respect we have for the Payton’s.”