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Sports columns

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Safety is again at forefront

Super Bowl week is beginning to resemble one of those family reunions where your crazy uncle says something outrageous, but just true enough to spark a discussion worth having.

Two years ago, it was Steelers linebacker James Harrison.

This time around, the provocateur was Bernard Pollard, the Ravens’ notoriously punishing safety. Pollard said he didn’t think the NFL would be around in 30 years because rule changes designed to make it even safer would eventually drive away fans – if something tragic didn’t hasten the game’s end even sooner.

“The only thing I’m waiting for ... and, Lord, I hope it doesn’t happen ... is a guy dying on the field,” Pollard, a South Side graduate, told CBSSports.com.

It may be easy to dismiss a handful of players’ exaggerated views, but the notion that the NFL is in real trouble – as well as football at every level from Pop Warner up – isn’t as hard a sell as it seems.

Just a few weeks after Sunday’s Super Bowl, arguments are scheduled to begin in Philadelphia in one lawsuit brought on behalf of former players and their families contending that the league failed to warn them about the dangers of concussions and then concealed those risks even in the face of mounting evidence. And that’s just one of several pending legal actions piling up outside Commissioner Roger Goodell’s office.

President Obama tackled player safety in a recent interview with The New Republic, saying that he anticipated the less exciting pro game that guys like Harrison and Pollard envisioned as safety concerns change the way it’s played. What really worried him, though, was whether those changes at the top would filter down to the lower levels of the sport soon enough.

“I’m a big football fan, but I have to tell you if I had a son, I’d have to think long and hard before I let him play football,” Obama said.

Not everyone is convinced there’s enough time to wait for Goodell and the union to sort out the legal battles and work together to advance the safety issue.

“I think it’s being taken seriously, but as far as young people starting to play, we need better and smarter instruction than ever before,” said former Saints quarterback Archie Manning. “We’ve got to bring some attention to bear right away …

“You only get so many chances and we’ve let a lot slip past. We can’t afford too many more misses. We’ve got to get it right.”

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