published Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

Wiedmer: Good, bad, sadly ugly parts of NFL

  • photo
    In this Jan. 10, 2010 file photo, New England Patriots linebacker Junior Seau (55) warms up on the field before an NFL wild-card playoff football game in Foxborough, Mass. Police say Seau, a former NFL star, was found dead at his home in Oceanside, Calif., Wednesday, May 2, 2012, after responding to a shooting there. He was 43. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

If ever the good, bad and ugly of the National Football League were all on display at the same time, it was Wednesday.

The bad -- or perhaps "the sad" would be more precise -- was easy to recognize if incredibly hard to swallow. Junior Seau, one of the best linebackers in league history, was found dead in his Oceanside, Calif., home of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.

A 20-year NFL veteran, Seau was but 43 years old, his last pro season coming in 2009. Even more shocking, he is the eighth member of the San Diego Chargers' 1994 Super Bowl team to die young.

For all those who believe commissioner Roger Goodell is spending too much time examining the physical, mental and emotional toll of this violent game on the men who play it, that single fact -- that eight Chargers from a Super Bowl team of just 18 years ago are already gone -- should silence their complaints.

As for the ugly, who dat holding up a haunted house mirror to New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma?

In yet another unmistakable statement by Goodell that NFL players will play by the rules or they won't play at all, the Commish suspended Vilma without pay for the entire 2012 season for his role in Bounty-gate -- the Saints' despicable pay-to-injure program.

Former Saint Anthony Hargrove (now with Green Bay), Will Smith and Scott Fujita (now with Cleveland) were also suspended for anywhere from eight (Hargrove) to three games, but only Vilma was booted for the entire year.

Naturally, the NFL Players Association released a statement that "We will vigorously protect and pursue all options on their behalf." But Saints coach Sean Payton didn't get anywhere with his appeal, and it's unlikely that Vilma and the rest of his goons will, either.

Of course, if a tweet from Saints backup quarterback Chase Daniel is correct that Vilma learned of the suspension by watching ESPN rather than from Goodell himself, the Commish might want to brush up on his people skills a bit.

Still, can somebody in the New Orleans organization not stop such childish tweets as the one former Alabama running back Mark Ingram sent out Wednesday afternoon, which proclaimed: "Don't worry they just makin us hungrier and puttin a bigger chip on our shoulder!! WHODATNATION will rise above it!! Believedat!!"

If only Goodell could ban tweets from overpaid, immature multimillionaires.

Yet for all the sadness and ugliness of Wednesday, there was at least one story that screams of goodness and kindness and compassion in a way that would make a preacher blush.

Two years after a spinal cord injury in a game against Army ended his career and partially paralyzed him, former Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

It was a symbolic gesture -- no money changed hands -- and LeGrand almost assuredly will never get a chance to play a down for his former Scarlet Knights coach Greg Schiano.

But Schiano's words alone regarding the move did much to make sports fans feel there are still a few good guys in the world.

Said the coach: "Leading up to the draft, I couldn't help but think that this should've been Eric's draft class. This small gesture is the least we could do to recognize his character, spirit and perseverance."

Said LeGrand: "It's something I always dreamed about -- go to the NFL and retire and become a sportscaster. Dreams do come true if you really believe."

Indeed, he already has done some broadcast work, and now he has an NFL contract signed on May 2 (5-2), which just happened to coincide with LeGrand's collegiate jersey number (52).

A truly incredible story for a player who was told immediate after his injury that he would be a quadriplegic and would spend the rest of his life on a ventilator. Instead, five weeks later LeGrand was breathing on his own and was able to stand upright with the aid of a metal frame, and he resumed his studies in the spring of 2011. Last October he even led the Scarlet Knights onto the field for their game against West Virginia.

A final note: LeGrand will graduate this fall with a degree in labor studies. Here's hoping he never chooses to defend a punk such as Vilma.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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