Monday, January 31, 2011

FBI jons search for missing Stanley Cup puck

Courtesy of Comcast SportsNet

Puckgate has now moved into the theatre of the absurd.

The FBI wants to know what happened to the puck from Patrick Kane’s game-winning goal in Game 6 of last year’s Stanley Cup Final in Philadelphia.

Ross Rice, a spokesman for the FBI, told the Chicago Tribune that forensic specialists from the bureau have volunteered their time to help track down the missing jewel.

Flyers president Peter Luukko told "Nobody has called us."

Chris Pronger, who took the puck in Game 2, would figure to be a prime suspect, but says he didn’t take the puck from Game 6, which ended in overtime.

“The people who are doing this are doing it on their own time,” Rice told the paper. “They feel they are a part of history.”

A Chicago restaurateur has already offered $50,000 for the missing puck. Recently, when the Flyers were in Chicago, Pronger was questioned by Chicago reporters about the missing puck’s whereabouts after the Flyers’ 4-1 victory.

Pronger joked that since he wasn’t on the ice for the game-winning goal, he didn’t take it. The FBI has tapes from NBC showing the puck lodged into the net, then an official walking in front of the camera shot.

The FBI told the paper that from the footage they have, they were able to determine that a puck reportedly given to them as the authentic Game 6 puck isn’t the one that was in the back of the net.

Featherweight Fury set for Boardwalk Hall

Atlantic City, N.J.  -  Tickets go on sale Friday, January 28, noon, for Top Rank's"Featherweight Fury!"  with three big title fights on a Top Rank championship event at the Boardwalk Hall here on Saturday,  March 26.

"This will be a great, entertaining night of boxing. I am really looking forward to this tripleheader which  we are calling Featherweight Fury!," said Bob Arum, CEO, Top Rank.

World featherweight champion Yuriorkis Gamboa of Miami, Fla. will defend against Jorge Solis of  Mexico; the very popular champion Matt 'Sharpshooter' Remillard of Manchester, Conn. will defend  his featherweight titles against #1-ranked Mikey Garcia of Oxnard, Ca.; and champion Teon Kennedy of Philadelphia defends his Jr Featherweight crown against Jorge Diaz of New Brunswick, N.J.

The bouts will be held at the Adrian Phillips Ballroom at Boardwalk Hall. The Gamboa vs. Solis and  Remillard vs. Garcia title fights will be televised by HBO After Dark.

Tickets are $200, $100, $50 plus applicable fees and are available at the Boardwalk Hall Box Office or  by calling Ticketmaster at (800) 736-1420 or online at

Heater named Temple defensive coordinator

PHILADELPHIA (1/31/11)– Chuck Heater, who served as the co-defensive coordinator at the University of Florida and has three national championship titles under his belt, has been named the defensive coordinator at Temple University, head football coach Steve Addazio announced on Monday.
“We’re very fortunate to have Chuck Heater join our football family,” Addazio said.  “Chuck is one of the most respected coaches in college football. He is a tremendous person and dedicated family man.  Chuck has vast experience as a defensive coordinator, having held the position at three schools. He has been a part of three national championship teams, two with me at Florida, and in 1988 with Notre Dame.  He is a great teacher with intensity and enthusiastic people skills. I’m proud to welcome Chuck, his wife Debbie, and their entire family to Temple University.”

Heater brings 35 years of coaching experience, including stints at Florida, Colorado, Northern Arizona, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Toledo, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin. The defensive coordinator at Florida in 2010, he has coached in 24 bowl games, including eight on New Year’s Day, and the 2007 and 2009 BCS National Championship Games, where Florida captured two national titles, and the 1988 national championship with Notre Dame.

Heater has been associated with six National Coaches of the Year in his playing and coaching career (Barry Alvarez, Earle Bruce, Lou Holtz, Urban Meyer, Bill McCartney and Bo Schembechler) while mentoring 20 NFL Draft selections and 24 NFL players as well as numerous all-conference picks, including Jim Thorpe Award winner Chris Hudson (Colorado).

Under his guidance, since 2005, the Florida Gators recorded 116 interceptions, the most in the SEC and the second-best total in the nation during that time frame. In 2010, Heater led the Gator secondary to a No. 3 ranking in SEC pass defense and SEC pass defense efficiency, while ranking second in the conference with 17 interceptions. Safety Ahmad Black was named a second-team All-American in 2010.

“I am excited to be a part of Temple football and to continue my relationship with Steve Addazio,” Heater said. “I’m excited about the future of Temple football and what we can accomplish here.”

In 2009, Heater helped guide a Florida secondary that ranked first in the SEC, the first time since 1988, and second in the nation in pass defense, allowing just 152.8 yards per game.  Four opponents failed to crack the 100-yard mark in passing offense against the Gators and six completed fewer than 50 percent of their pass attempts.  Heater helped turn around a defensive secondary that was one of the nation’s worst in 2007 to rank among the best in 2008. The UF pass efficiency defense ranked third in the nation in 2008 (up from 71st in 2007) and the pass defense improved to rank 20th in the nation in 2008 (up from 98th in 2007). Sophomore Ahmad Black was named second-team All-SEC by the coaches and honorable mention All-American honors from Sports Illustrated. Black was a second-team All-Sophomore selection by College Football News, while sophomore Major Wright earned honorable mention recognition for the All-Sophomore team. Will Hill was selected to the SEC All-Freshman team and was named a second-team All-Freshman performer by College Football News.  Black tied for the national lead with seven interceptions in 2008, totaling 191 interception return yards, the second-most in the country, and two touchdowns.

Heater served as the recruiting coordinator for the 2006 and 2007 Florida classes that each ranked among the Top-two nationally, including No. 1 by several services. The 2008 class was ranked in the top five by several services.

The Gator secondary led the SEC in interceptions in 2005 and 2006 with 16 in 2005 (tied with Georgia) and 21 in 2006. UF’s 2006 total tied for the fourth-highest in school history. Florida’s 2006 pass defense efficiency (98.3) ranked fourth nationally and second in the SEC. UF surrendered only 10 passing touchdowns in 2006 (tied for eighth nationally). The unit also ranked second in scoring defense in the league and sixth nationally (13.5).

Heater guided All-SEC first-team selection Ryan Smith, whose total of eight interceptions led the league and was seventh nationally in 2006. The total was also the second-highest by a Gator in school history. He tutored the 2005 cornerbacks at Florida that were part of a secondary that allowed just 52.3 percent of passes to be complete – the 16th-best percentage nationally. A member of the UF secondary had a sack in five of the 12 games on the year. He coached All-SEC performer Dee Webb in 2005 (First Team by AP and Second Team by coaches), who led the SEC in pass deflections and team MVP  Vernell Brown who ranked second in the SEC in interceptions.

Heater worked alongside former Florida head coach Urban Meyer at four different Division I programs. In 1986, Heater coached the secondary at Ohio State when Meyer was a graduate assistant. They coached together again at Colorado State from 1991-92 where Heater was the defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach and Meyer as the receivers coach. Heater was also a member of the Utah coaching staff in 2004.

During the 2004 campaign, Heater served as the cornerbacks coach and recruiting coordinator at Utah as the Utes completed a perfect 12-0 season.

He spent five years at the University of Washington as either the cornerbacks or running backs coach between 1999-2003 and also served as the Huskies’ recruiting coordinator.  Heater was credited with helping the school sign three recruiting classes rated in the Top 15. Three of his recruiting classes produced a Freshman All-American.  In 2002, he switched from the corners to the running backs. He also oversaw the Huskies’ punt and kick return teams.        

During his first season at Notre Dame, Heater was a member of the coaching staff that led the Irish to a 12-0 record and the 1988 national championship.

He also served as the secondary coach at Notre Dame (1988-90), Ohio State (1985-87) and Wisconsin (1982-84). Heater coached the running backs from 1977-78 and the secondary at Toledo from 1979-81. He began his collegiate coaching career in 1976 at Northern Arizona, coaching the running backs.

A native of Tiffin, Ohio, Heater received his bachelor’s degree in education from Michigan in 1975. A three-year letterwinner at running back, Heater earned second-team All-Big Ten honors as a junior and was named honorable mention as a senior. Finishing his playing career as UM’s fifth-leading rusher all-time with 1,981 yards on 406 carries (a 4.9-yard per carry average), he received the school’s Fielding Yost Award in 1975 for the most outstanding academic and athletic performance by a senior. During his tenure at Michigan, the Wolverines went 41-3-1 and won outright or shared the Big Ten title every season.

Heater was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in the 10th round with the 241st overall selection in the 1975 NFL Draft.

Union set to play four preseason matches in Florida

Philadelphia Union today announced the club will play four exhibition matches during the team’s annual preseason camp in Orlando, Fla. The Union will first face the U-17 U.S. Men’s National Team on February 6, followed by encounters against the University of South Florida and the University of Central Florida on February 10 and 13, respectively. Peter Nowak’s squad will conclude their first leg of preseason training with the previously announced match against USL-Pro club Orlando City S.C. on February 19 at the Florida Citrus Bowl.

While in Orlando, the Union will be staying at the Westin Lake Mary Hotel, Orlando North, which will serve as the club’s base through 2014. Bimbo Bakeries USA will be the presenting sponsor of the club’s Orlando camp each of the four years.

The Westin Lake Mary Hotel, Orlando North, is offering a Philadelphia Union Fan Package for those supporters who decide to join the team in Orlando. The special rate varies from $159-$179 per night and includes an American breakfast. To make a reservation, please visit The special group rate is accessible until February 4 and subject to availability.

Philadelphia Union’s Preseason Game Calendar in Orlando:

Opponent                                          Venue                                 Date/KO Time
U-17 U.S. Men’s National Team       Lake Sylvan Park               Feb. 6 / 11:00 a.m.
University of South Florida              Lake Sylvan Park               Feb. 10 / 3:30 p.m.
University of Central Florida            UCF                                    Feb. 13 / 10:00 a.m.
Orlando City S.C.                             Florida Citrus Bowl            Feb. 19 / 7:00 p.m.*
* Tickets available for purchase through and the Amway Center Box Office.

Junior welterweight Cruz returns to action in A.C. on Feb. 26

Atlantic City, NJ--Junior welterweight Ronald Cruz, coming off the biggest win of his career, takes on Dillet Frederick in the scheduled eight-round semifinal Saturday evening, Feb. 26, in the Grand Ballroom of Bally’s Atlantic City.

Gabriel Rosado and Jamaal Davis collide in the all-Philadelphia junior middleweight main event, set for 12 rounds.

Cruz, 24, of Bethlehem, PA, knocked out highly regarded Jeremy Bryan, of Paterson, NJ, in six rounds last Oct. 30 in the same ring.  After falling behind in the first three rounds, Cruz took control in the fourth, dropped Bryan twice in the fifth and finished him off with another knockdown 59 seconds in the sixth round when the fight was stopped.      

A pro for two years, Cruz has scored seven knockouts en route to a 10-0 record.  He is managed by ex-pro lightweight Jimmy Deoria, of Phoenixville, PA.

Cruz has become a regular at Bally’s, having beaten Julias Edmonds, Ashantie Hendrickson and Juan Ramon Cruz there.

Frederick, 28, of Fort Myers, FL, originally was set to fight Cruz last Sept. 25 at Bally’s, but a physical exam in the dressing room the night of the fight revealed Frederick had a sore right hand and the match was canceled.  Because of that, Cruz went looking for a fight and grabbed the chance to fight Bryan 35 days later.

A pro since 2001, Frederick is 7-3-1, 4 K0s.  He, too, comes here off his best win, a third-round knockout over previously undefeated (12-0-2) Raymond Charles, of El Campo, TX, on July 16 in Tampa, FL.

Five additional bouts complete the card, which begins at 7.30 p.m.  Tickets priced at $50 and $75 are on sale at the offices of Peltz Boxing (215-765-0922) and all Ticketmaster outlets (800-345-7000).  They also can be purchased online at  and at

Phillies sign P Grilli to minor league deal

The Phillies have signed veteran right-hander Jason Grilli to a minor league deal.
Grilli, who is 18-18 with a 4.74 ERA in 238 appearances over eight major league seasons, last pitched with the Rockies and Rangers in 2009, when he went a combined 2-3 with a 5.32 ERA/
"This Italian Stallion is FIRED UP about the City of Brotherly Love! Balboa workouts paid off and READY TO GO!!!" Grilli wrote Sunday on his Twitter account (@grillcheese49).

Soul draw over 200 to open tryout

PHILADELPHIA (January 31, 2011)  – With training camp set to begin in less than three weeks (February 18), the Arena Football League’s Philadelphia Soul drew 211 participants to their second open tryout at the Philadelphia Eagles’ NovaCare Complex in South Philadelphia on Saturday.

Soul Co-Majority Owner and ESPN’s Monday Night Football commentator, Ron Jaworski; former Olympic Gold Medalist, Carl Lewis; former Philadelphia Eagles’ running back, Deuce Staley; and Philadelphia Eagles’ Special Team Coordinator, Bobby April were also in attendance.

“It’s amazing to see the amount of talent that there is in the Philadelphia area,” said Soul head coach Mike Hohensee.  “Again, we will sign at least two or possibly three players from this tryout.  It turned out to be a valuable decision to hold this second tryout.”

The Soul signed five players – Nyere Aumaitre, Mike Gilmartin, Jerome Hayes, Matt Hewitt and Keith Stokes – from the team’s first open tryout in October.

Between the two tryouts, the ArenaBowl XXII champions had over 550 participants – the most by any team in the AFL heading into the 2011 season.

Wings Start Hot, Extend Streak with 12-11 Win

Despite a valiant second-half Colorado comeback, the Philadelphia Wings (3-2) held on the defeat the Mammoth (1-3) by a score of 12-11, earning their first home win of the 2011 season. The victory also marks the first three-game win streak for the franchise since January 2008.

Voted the game’s most valuable player, Wings’ forward Athan Iannucci led all Philadelphia scorers with his second six-point performance in two nights. Nooch’s early hat-trick played no small part in building Philadelphia’s first half, ten goal outburst. The two teams headed to the locker room separated by a score of 10-4 at the end of the second.

The Mammoth scored four unanswered goals in the third quarter to cut the Wings lead to just two. From there, the fourth quarter unraveled as roller coaster ride for both teams, featuring multiple disallowed goals and a late 2-man advantage for the Mammoth. And just when it appeared as though Colorado had climbed all the way back to tie the contest at 12, an official replay revealed a game-saving crease violation, protecting the Wings fragile lead. Exactly one minute and twenty-five seconds later, the final buzzer sounded on 12-11 Wings victory.

As a matter of note, Saturday night proved the second night in a row in which the Wings succeeded in having their opponent’s starting goaltender pulled from the game.  After forfeiting five goals in just nineteen minutes of action, Mammoth coach Bob Hamley replaced starter Chris Levis with back-up goalie and former Wing Rob Blasdell, the latter of whom Philadelphia seemed quite happy to have back in the building. Blasdell would surrender five goals in the next eight minutes, forcing Hamley to return to Levis even before the half.

The Philadelphia goaltending was solid yet again as Brandon Miller turned in yet another solid performance. Miller turned aside 44 of 55 attempts on a night in which the Wings were badly outshot by a margin of 17.  A special congratulation also goes to Miller on becoming the league leader in save percentage following his tremendous performance in Boston Friday night.

The Wings return to the turf Saturday, February 5th for a 2 p.m. game in Rochester, New York against the Knighthawks. The team’s next home game comes the following weekend—Saturday, February 12th—when the Wings will play host to the Eastern Division leading Toronto Rock.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Team Lidstrom tops Team Staal in NHL All-Star Game

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor

Dallas Stars forward Loui Eriksson tallied two goals -- including the  game-winner late in regulation -- along with two assists as Team Lidstrom lipped Team Staal, 11-10, in the 58th NHL All-Star Game from RBC Center.

In a break from the usual pairings based on geography or place of berth, the NHL showcase for the 2011 season featured two squads, with previously-chosen captains, picking the remaining All-Stars one after the other. Called the fantasy draft, it took place on Friday night.

Danny  Briere and  Anze Kopitar  also scored  twice for  the Lidstroms,  which fell  behind by  four goals  in  the game's  first six  minutes, then  rallied in the third period for the victory.

"We started to think 'Geez, we hope this won't continue after they got the first four goals,'" said winning captain Nicklas Lidstrom, a veteran defenseman for the Detroit Red Wings. "But after we got our first goal, we started playing better. It wasn't the start we wanted but it definitely was the end we wanted."

Shea  Weber posted  a  game-high four  assists while  Jonathan  Toews added  a goal   and   two  helpers,  with   Matt  Duchene,  Martin  St.  Louis,  Dustin Byfuglien and Steven Stamkos all lighting the lamp once.

Tim  Thomas earned his third win in three All-Star appearances by limiting the opposition to four goals on 15 shots in the final 20 minutes.

Eric  Staal delighted his home fans with a pair of scores and Kris Letang also notched  two goals for  the Staals, which also received a goal and two assists from game MVP Patrick Sharp.

"It was awesome, a lot of fun," Staal of the Hurricanes said. "We came up a little bit short but it was a good game overall. It was great to be out there with the guys on our side."

Claude  Giroux  picked up  three points  on a  goal and  two assists, and Alex Ovechkin added a goal and a helper in defeat.

Henrik  Lundqvist was  saddled with the loss despite yielding only three goals on 14 shots in the third period.

Letang  eventually  snapped a  deadlock at  8:46 of the  third period and Team Staal  regained the lead at 8-7, but Briere beat Thomas just before the midway point and 48 seconds later, Toews made it 9-8 for Team Lidstrom.

"Those first two shifts were kinda weird," Briere admitted. "You just don't know how guys are gonna play, how hard you can go, what kind of defense they're gonna play. We needed a couple shifts to adapt."

St.  Louis then moved down the right wing, cut to the net and managed to sneak a  backhander  home off the  rush with 6:07 left  in regulation for a two-goal margin.

Rick  Nash converted  a Corey  Perry pass  just over  a minute  later for  yet another  one-goal difference,  and after  Lundqvist  was pulled  for an  extra skater, Eriksson hit the empty net.

The  home captain  wasn't through, and Staal notched his second of the contest with  33.6 seconds  remaining to bring his side within 11-10, but an equalizer did not amterialize despite pressure on Thomas.

The  two-year gap in competition due to the 2010 Winter Games wasn't a factor, as  Ovechkin tallied  for Team Staal against Marc-Andre Fleury just 50 seconds after  the opening faceoff.  It was 2-0 at 2:48 when Paul Stastny redirected a Sharp feed during a 2-on-1 break.

Patrik  Elias  tripled the advantage 32  seconds later by one-timing a Stastny dish, then Sharp set up a Giroux backhander for a 4-0 game at 5:41.

Kopitar  put Team Lidstrom on the board with 9:10 left in the first on a nifty rising backhander over Cam Ward's glove and Byfuglien converted a Patrick Kane pass at the left post at 13:17.

Eriksson shot one off Ward's glove less than three minutes later, then Duchene scored on a break 23 seconds later for a 4-4 tie.

Jonas  Hiller  was welcomed to  action when Sharp scored  off a Giroux pass at 1:18  of the  second period  and Team  Staal led  5-4, and  Letang ripped  one home at 6:10 for a two-goal edge.

Kopitar's  two-man breakaway goal was the first goal allowed by Carey Price at 10:08,  then  Stamkos tied  the game with  5:49 left in  the second and Briere followed to put Team Lidstrom up 7-6 only 81 seconds after.

Staal  slipped a  shot between Thomas' pads  for a 7-7 contest with just under four  minutes played in the third, and the scorefest took a short pause almost 2 1/2 minutes later.

Ovechkin  threw his stick to foil a Duchene breakout at the 6:13 mark, and the young  Avs  forward was awarded a  penalty shot. Lundqvist followed him to the right post and smothered the shot with his pad.

"Well yeah, it was just (in) fun...I just didn't want him to score it alone so it was just a good moment," Ovechkin said in his own defense."

Notes: The  21  total goals  ranks fourth  all-time in  NHL mid-season contests, with North  America's  14-12 win over the  World in 2001 ranking first...The East's 12-11  win in 2009 is second, while a 16-6 Campbell decision over the Wales in 1993  holds third place...Team Staal won the skills competition on Saturday by a  33-22  count...The East topped the  West by a  12-11 score two years ago in
Montreal...Sharp  became  the first  Chicago Blackhawks player  to be named an All-Star  MVP since Eric Daze in 2002 at Los Angeles...Bobby Hull won back-to-back  MVP  honors in  1970-71 for  the 'Hawks...Martin  Havlat picked up three assists  for Team  Lidstrom, while Elias, Stastny and Nash recorded a goal and assist   each   for   Team   Staal...The  2012   All-Star   Game   is   slated for Ottawa's Scotiabank Place.

O'Brien finally runs out of rope in Indy

By John McMullen

Philadelphia, PA - After three-plus seasons of mediocre to worse basketball, the Indiana Pacers finally pulled the trigger and fired the world's surliest basketball coach, Jim O'Brien, on Sunday.

Team president Larry Bird replaced the unpopular mentor with veteran assistant Frank Vogel on an interim basis.

To be blunt, I'm surprised it took this long.

"We've been looking at everything with our team, from the beginning of the season and now at the halfway mark and I think at this time a change is necessary," said Bird. "This isn't all on Jim. All of us share in the
responsibility for where we're at and where we need to go."

O'Brien compiled a miserable 121-169 record during his tenure in Indianapolis, failed to make the playoffs in any of his three full seasons at the helm and topped out at 36 wins in both 2007-08 and '08-'09, his first two
seasons with the club.

The Pacers suffered yet another setback in Chicago on Saturday night, their seventh loss in eight games. That latest hiccup dropped the underachieving team to 17-27 and 10th in the Eastern Conference playoff
picture, two games south of both Philadelphia and Charlotte.

No one is going to claim that the Pacers have the type of talent to compete with Boston, Miami and the Bulls at the top of the Eastern Conference or even Orlando and Atlanta, but you can certainly make the argument that O'Brien had more to work with than teams like New York, the Sixers and the Bobcats.

The acquisition of a true point guard in Darren Collison and the continued development of center Roy Hibbert, coupled with an All-Star type player in Danny Granger should have been enough for O'Brien to make the postseason.

To be fair, the veteran mentor might have weathered the storm, righted the ship and played sacrificial lamb to the Celtics, Bulls or Heat in the East quarters but that would have been just a band-aid for a once proud

NBA basketball is equal parts X's and O's and managing egos these days. Few question O'Brien's basketball acumen but his ability to deal with varying personalities isn't exactly going to conjure up images of Phil Jackson.

People in Philadelphia still cringe when talking about O'Brien's people skills and he's been gone from the 76ers for five years.

The Pacers are in flux and certainly don't need that kind of headache. Bird is in the final year of his contract, and has already hinted he may not return even if asked. Meanwhile, the ownership situation is muddled and the club would love to deal disgruntled backup point guard T.J. Ford, and could even be convinced to move Granger in the right deal.

Stabilizing perhaps the most important position in the organization is paramount. It was clear, O'Brien wasn't working so why not move on as soon as possible?

Vogel, a 14-year coaching vet, is likely just holding down things while the Pacers try to convince Mike Brown, the former Cleveland head coach and assistant under Rick Carlisle in Indy, to take over a reclamation project that should be further along.

As for O'Brien. He's a lifer in an old boy's club that quickly went to jump on the sword for him despite his incredibly pedestrian resume that features just three postseason appearances in nine years as a head coach.

"Obi is a great basketball mind," Nuggets coach George Karl said before his Nuggets took on the Sixers in Philadelphia Sunday night. "I'm sure he will land on his feet."

Heck, even Bird lauded a guy who made him look bad.

"These decisions are never reached easily and this is no different," Bird said. "Jim did a good job under the circumstances the last 3 1/2 years in a rebuilding effort, he helped change the culture and worked every day to try to get this franchise turned in the right direction. I have the utmost respect for Jim and what he did for us."

Iguodala leads Sixers over Nuggets

Philadelphia -  Andre Iguodala scored 24 points, dished out seven assists and played torturous defense on Denver's Carmelo Anthony to lead the Sixers pst the Nuggets, 110-99, in front of over 15,000 at Wells Fargo Center.

Thaddeus Young came off the bench to add 21 points and seven rebounds, while Elton Brand chipped in with 15 points for the Sixers, who bounced back from Friday's devastating collapse against Memphis to win for a fourth time in their last five games.

Jodie Meeks and Lou Williams both finished with 12 points and rookie Evan Turner stuffed the stat sheet with 11 points, eight rebounds and six assists for Philadelphia, which turned the ball over just 11 times after giving it away 11 times in the fourth quarter alone against Memphis.

Anthony scored only 12 points on 3-of-12 shooting and matched a season-high by committing six turnovers in the loss. Chauncey Billups poured in a game-best 27 points ,while J.R. Smith scored 23 in a reserve role for the Nuggets, who had a four-game win streak snapped and was swept by the Sixers in the home-and-home season series for the first time since 2002-03.

K-Love: When an All-Star isn't an All-Star

By John McMullen

Philadelphia, PA - A free society is all about making your own decisions, but that doesn't mean we don't draw lines to avoid the type of anarchy taking place in Cairo right now.

Everything from our laws to our tax code is designed to keep an orderly society. Whether you agree or disagree with the framework of our government is immaterial. The very existence of an advanced, orderly country depends on cut-off points, whether its the current tax rate or the fact that anyone under the
age of 21 can't purchase alcohol legally.

In fact, everything about our lives is based on lines drawn in the sand whether they are made by the collective or in our own personal lives.

Think about it -- you can't stroll into a convenience store today, pour yourself a cup of coffee and leave without paying. We all decided stealing was against the law hundreds of years ago.

Now, take something like adultery. Sure you're free to do it, but each and everyone of us that's attached makes a personal decision on what's right for us. Some are true forever, some have open marriages and some decide its okay to deceive their spouses. No matter the choice, however, each and every one of us is drawing a line in the sand, depending on where the moral compass is pointing.

Everything in our world is finite.

That includes sports and things like the NBA All-Star teams. The league sets the limit at 12 players and each year, some very deserving candidates are left out in the cold.

This year the cut-off point looks very tough, especially in the West, a conference loaded with superlative power forwards. The NBA's leading scorer, Kevin Durant, and everyone's favorite water-cooler fodder, Carmelo Anthony, were voted in by the fans, leaving players like Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Tim Duncan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love fighting for a few spots.

To the stat geeks who worship the altar of "player efficiency rating" like its the Bible or Qur'an, Griffin and Love are no-brainers. After all, Blake has 38 double-doubles, the second most in the NBA behind K-Love, poured in a league-high 47 points earlier this month against Indiana and is the first rookie since Allen Iverson with multiple 40-point games. The Oklahoma City native is also the only NBA player averaging 20-plus points, 12-plus rebounds and 3-plus assists.

Love, meanwhile, leads the NBA in rebounding, has 33 straight double-doubles, has the only three 30-point, 20-rebound games in the league this season, and became the first NBA player to tally 30 points and 30 rebounds in the same game since Moses Malone did it for Houston 28 years ago.

On the surface both resumes are air-tight, yet when I was compiling my Western Conference reserves on Twitter, I found myself debating both. Doug Collins, the current Sixers coach who formerly piloted Chicago, Detroit and Washington, once told me he never voted for an All-Star from a losing team and I bought in
-- you see to me, wins trump everything.

That's my line and both Griffin and Love are languishing with teams far under .500. Duncan, with his pedestrian numbers of 13.6 ppg and 9.4 rpg, is the heart-and-soul of a 40-7 team. Dirk's Mavs were 25-4 before he went down with a sprained knee. Odom and Gasol are the length that makes the two-time
defending champion Lakers so tough to match up with, and Aldridge has the Blazers positioned to make the postseason without Brandon Roy and Greg Oden.

In the end I acquiesced a bit and picked Griffin, perhaps the most dynamic player in the game, since the Clippers are much-improved, but I drew the line on Love since his Timberwolves are a Western Conference-worst 11-36.

Is that fair?

Certainly not, Minnesota's struggles have far more to do with a rigid system coach, Kurt Rambis, that is a slave to the Triangle Offense he learned while sitting next to Phil Jackson in Los Angeles.

But, everyone draws a line and a free society is supposedly one where it is safe to be unpopular. My decision, sure to be unpopular in Minneapolis, would be to draw that line right in front of Kevin Love.

Eagles to franchise Vick

ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that the Eagles plan on placing a franchise tag on quarterback Michael Vick if available after a new CBA is agreed to.

Sixers try to bounce back vs. 'Melo, Nuggets

The streaking Denver Nuggets hope to remain perfect on a five-game road trip Sunday when they invade the City of Brotherly Love to take on a Philadelphia 76ers team coming off its latest collapse.

The high-flying Nuggets improved to 3-0 on their trek Friday in Cleveland when Carmelo Anthony scored 33 points and Denver cruised to a 117-103 victory over the Cavaliers on Friday.

Arron Afflalo added 23 points and Ty Lawson scored 15 off the bench for the Nuggets, who won their fourth straight game overall. The Cavaliers, meanwhile, were dealt their 19th consecutive loss -- tying the single-season franchise record for futility set in 1981-82.

Center Nene returned to the lineup after missing a win at Detroit on Wednesday with a strained right calf, but played just nine minutes and sat out the second half as a precautionary measure.

"We just wanted to come out and move the ball and a couple guys got it going early," said Anthony.  "Everybody felt like they were part of the game."

The Sixers, meanwhile, held a seemingly comfortable 21-point lead late in the third quarter on Friday against Memphis and appeared on their way to a season-high fourth straight win before completely falling apart. Philadelphia committed 11 of its 22 turnovers in the final frame and saw the Grizzlies erupt for 42 points in a 99-94 comeback victory.

Jodie Meeks and Jrue Holiday each netted 16 points in the crushing defeat for Philadelphia. Andre Iguodala filled the stat sheet with 12 points, nine assists and eight rebounds for the Sixers, while Elton Brand chipped in 15 points and nine rebounds in the loss.

"We had complete control of the game," said Philadelphia head coach Doug Collins. "They went with their second unit, went to a zone, and we just went dead."

Philadelphia has won two straight over Denver, including a 95-89 win in the Rockies earlier this season. Anthony, however, missed both of those contests.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Wings top Boston

The Philadelphia Wings (2-2) avenged their opening night loss to the Boston Blazers (2-3) with an 11-5 victory in the TD Garden Friday night. The win was the second in a row for the Wings, who never trailed in the contest.

The play between the East Division rivals was tight early on, as the teams traded goals in another low-scoring first half. Philadelphia would tear the game open in the third quarter, however, scoring five goals to Boston’s two.

Leading the way for the Wings’ multitude of scorers was former league MVP Athan Iannucci, who tallied four goals and two assists while launching a game-high sixteen shots on goal.

Not to be overlooked, Iannucci’s traditional line mate Alex Turner netted a hat trick of his own, finishing the evening with a total of five points. The tandem of Turner and “Nooch” have combined to score 41% (14 of 34) of the Wings’ goals through the first four games.   Forwards Drew Westervelt (1 goal, 3 assists) and Brandon Mundorf (4 assists) each chipped with four points in the game.

In net for the Wings, goalie Brandon Miller turned in his most impressive performance of the early season. Stopping 43 of the 48 shots hurled his way, Miller made the spectacular look fairly routine against the Blazers with a number of acrobatic stops.

As a team, the Wings were able to hold league scoring leaders Casey Powell and Dan Dawson to just five points combined.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Sixers suffer another collapse against Grizzlies

Philadelphia - In a season filled with late-game collapses, this might have been the worst.

The Sixers blew a 21-point third quarter lead and lost to the Memphis Grizzlies, 99-94, in front of 14,289 stunned fans at Wells Fargo Center.

Philadelphia, which was shooting for a season-high fourth straight win, committed 11 of its 22 turnovers and was outscored 42-21 in the fourth quarter en route to their sixth end of game implosion in 2010-11.

The real turning point in the game, however, came in the third after the Sixers had built their large lead. Memphis coach Lionel Hollins, a former Sixer, went to little used center Hasheem Thabeet and the 7-foot-3 former UConn star, who has largely been a bust since being taken second overall in the 2009 draft, dominated things in the middle of the Grizzlies' zone defensively as well as on the boards.

"We had complete control of the game," Sixers coach Doug Collins said. "They went with their second unit, went to a zone and we just went dead."

Philadelphia never recovered as the lead slowly melted away before the Grizzlies went on top late in the final frame thanks to Zach Randolph's conventional three-point play. It was a rare miscue by Collins, who had the undersized Thaddeus Young, trying to check the double-double machine.

Memphis then sealed things by making 11 consecutive free throws in the final two minutes.

Randolph and Rudy Gay combined for 17 points in the dominating fourth quarter as the Grizzlies won for the fourth time in five games despite playing without high-scoring guard O.J. Mayo, who was serving the first of a 10-game suspension for violating the league's drug policy.

Randolph ended with 22 points and 12 rebounds, while Gay chipped in 16 points in the win.

Jodie Meeks and Jrue Holiday each netted 16 points for the Sixers in the crushing defeat. Elton Brand added 15 points and nine rebounds while Andre Iguodala narrowly missed a triple-double with 12 points, eight rebounds and nine assists.

"I'm very disappointed. We just couldn't get any stops [in the fourth quarter]," Brand said.

Six Shots:

*The 21-point third quarter lead was the biggest the Sixers have blown all season, topping an 18-point edge they gave up in Atlanta on Dec. 3.

*The Sixers had a season-high 13 three-pointers and lost for just the second time when outshooting their opponent on the night (13-2).

*Randolph's double-double was his 33rd on the season.

*Lou Williams scored just nine points off the bench, snapping an 11-game streak of scoring in double figures.

Flyers assign Walker to Phantoms

Flyers defenseman Matt Walker has cleared waivers and been assigned to the team’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Adirondack Phantoms.

Walker, 30, has appeared in four games for the Flyers this season, all in the month of January.

He missed the first 3 ½ months of the season due to a pair of hip surgeries.  The first took place on October 20 to repair a torn labrum and bony impingement in his right hip, while the second was performed on December 16 to remove inflamed synovial tissue in his left hip.

Brain Expert Omalu Wants Longer Rest for Concussed Football Players

Sideline concussed juveniles for three months, says breakthrough neuropath NP testing lacks validation and might be harmful, critics charge NFL players rebuke 'safer’ football through their ‘behavior modification’

By Matt Chaney

Special for The Phanatic Magazine

So-called concussion awareness is said to be sweeping American football, and Scott Fujita, veteran NFL linebacker, agrees to a point.

Yes, Fujita confirms, even hard dudes like him have sobered in their perspective. Head injuries are no longer considered trivial in football but as serious business, and NFL players get it, especially Fujita, nearing 32 years old at arguably the game’s most violent position for Cleveland.

In his mind the most menacing guys don’t appear so tough anymore, just more human, fragile—even as he targets one to smash on the field.

“I gotta be honest, I think about that every time I go in now to tackle somebody,” Fujita, 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, said this week in a phone interview. “I’m concerned for my own safety as well as theirs. I’m a married guy, I’ve got two young kids, and I see a lot more the big picture than I ever did before.”

But has anything changed about danger in tackle football, the game that kills and maims? Is so-called safer play really taking over?

Fujita, member of the players union executive committee, doesn’t equivocate in answering, typical of his trademark frankness. “Do I feel safer with the emphasis on the rules and all that kind of stuff? No, that doesn’t make me feel safer,” Fujita said. “Do I think the emphasis makes the game safer? No. Overall, I don’t, no.”

“I just think that I’m going to be smarter about things, and I think a lot of players feel the same way, when an issue (of head injury) comes up for each of us.”

Fujita doesn’t yet detect benefit of concussion management, including neuropsychological (NP) testing like ImPACT software, designed to help assess and control head injury in players.

In fact, Fujita says he’s only been NP-tested a few times during nine years in the NFL. Despite all the talk by management and associate experts, swearing newfound vigilance and concern over brain health in players, Fujita hasn’t seen tangible effect.

His neurological baseline wasn’t re-assessed this season, as concussions exploded into the biggest controversy for American football in more than a century. Fujita even played on the infamous October Sunday at Pittsburgh, Browns versus Steelers, when three shocking headshots leveled guys within minutes. 

Had Fujita suffered a concussion this season—or been diagnosed—the NFL would’ve been without proper neural data to gauge his condition. “I took one (a baseline) probably, maybe three years ago?” he said, considering. “Maybe two years ago was the last time, down in New Orleans.”

“Yeah, I think it’s been at least two years,” the linebacker determined. “And there have been a whole lot of train wrecks in two years.”

*       *       *       *       *       *       *

Dr. Bennet I. Omalu, the pioneering sport-forensic pathologist who first linked brain damage to tackle football nine years ago, warns that players are dangerously mishandled still—despite official claims this season of “safer” play through rule changes and “concussion management” for the injured.

“That is the name of the game,” Omalu said of the rhetoric, calling it a “corruption at various levels” in information and science designed to deflect damning evidence amid crisis for football.

The official goal, Omalu charges, is not to protect life but to sustain football as pervasive in culture, sanctioned by American government, education, medicine, media and even religion, with elements of each profiting from the violent activity. 

Omalu maintains that every concussed football player needs isolation from physical and mental stimulation followed by lengthy rest, further shielding—as he testified one year ago for the House Judiciary Committee. “Two weeks is insufficient time for the recovery of (cerebral) membrane and micro-skeletal injuries caused by concussions. The absence of symptoms does not mean that the brain has healed,” Omalu, chief medical examiner of San Joaquin County, Calif., told congressional members on Feb. 1, 2010.

“I recommend that if a child sustains a concussion in football, that child should be kept out of play for at least three months, or for the entire season to lower the risk of developing any degree of irreversible brain damage.”

Omalu’s public call went unheeded, but a rest mandate would’ve prevented at least one death of a teen player this season. In a recent phone interview, Omalu alleged that rampant, serious brain trauma continues to be disregarded at all levels of football, with injured players fast-tracked back to contact.

“What you do is remove the person from all types of stimulation,” Omalu stressed for diagnosed concussion, especially casualties of football. “You remove him (the athlete) from play. You remove him from school. You remove him from all types of intellectual stimulation.” Omalu is particularly alarmed about concussed juveniles, for the predominant attitude to quickly return kids to football, despite evidence suggesting young brains to be most vulnerable.

Rather, every concussion of a child football player—regardless of diagnosed severity, regardless what anyone says, regardless what post-concussion tests compute—should automatically sideline the patient for three months, Omalu argues in rhythmic Nigerian accent. “There’s no question about it, O-K?” he said, in crescendo and pause as emphasis. “For juveniles… any con-cussion.” 

The NFL’s insistence for returning many concussed players within 1 to 2 weeks is a scary problem, according to Omalu and more experts, but college football follows that clinical assumption as do many schools and youth leagues.

The national mentality of “necessary roughness” endures for tackle football, or the belief that benefits outweigh risks for players. The game teaches toughness, discipline and teamwork, supporters say, and is irreplaceable for boosting social interaction and economy in America.

Critics counter or suggest the game is a public health problem that resists impact reform such as downsizing, annually exposing millions of kids to brain trauma that confounds medicine, of repetitive blows, recurring or “second-impact” concussions, and hemorrhaging.

Omalu says too many sport parents trust intuitive-based “return to play” (RTP) guidelines and instruments at real peril of their concussed children. The trauma is lasting, he argues, and often undetectable in popular neuropsychological tests like the computerized ImPACT software.

Conversely, medical voices within the football-business umbrella disagree with Omalu’s side, led by researchers who receive funding from the NFL or Players Association or otherwise gain remuneration from the sport—such as sales of their NP tools to schools and more clients in the surging market of concussion management.

Football-supportive experts acknowledge, however, that a false-negative assessment triggered at least one death in 2010, Nathan Stiles, 17, of Spring Hill High School in Kansas. Stiles suffered a first concussion during an Oct. 1 game and missed two games before allowed to resume football contact. He then suffered both a second concussion and a lethal subdural hematoma during an Oct. 28 game, according to new pathology results.

Some experts and trainers tactfully direct blame onto the teen for faulty assessment of his condition, not protocols like widely selling ImPACT Applications. They say Stiles failed to properly report lingering symptoms of the original concussion, leading to doctor clearance and parental permission for his premature return to play.

Objective, educated self-reporting by the brain-injured Stiles—an intelligent youth of undisputedly high character—would have been “the most important thing” for preventing his tragedy, Dr. Robert C. Cantu said in a recent phone interview.

An esteemed neurosurgeon and injury researcher, Cantu’s myriad of football associations include his consulting for NFL teams and NCAA member universities while also serving as vice president of the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, a non-profit group funded by manufacturers like Riddell, producer of skull-preserving helmets currently under scrutiny for claims to reduce brain injury.

Cantu, of the Boston University Medical School, the Center for Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, and the non-profit Sports Legacy Institute—last year awarded a $1 million research grant by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell—heads one team analyzing cerebral tissue of Stiles.

Cantu says their findings, contrary to previous reports, show the youth suffered both the concussion re-bleed and cerebral hemorrhaging during his last game. “I’ve talked with Mrs. Stiles, Connie Stiles, and she tells me that (son Nathan) was not telling her he had symptoms (of lasting injury),” Cantu said. “I have a very hard time really thinking he was asymptomatic. It takes honesty on the part of the individual, as they’re symptomatic with headache, nausea, on and on and on, to come forward with it. It’s not safe to play with it.”

Cantu concedes, though, “research out there suggests all (healthy) brain functions may not have returned to normal even though somebody has become asymptomatic.” He added: “But those research tools that are being used (magnetic resonance imaging) are not standard tools. They’re research tools. They make us want to study it further, but they don’t give us the answers.”

But concussion management endorsed by Cantu is scant on scientific answers itself. Prominent counter-voices warn of invalidity and unreliability in the clinical practice that’s flown through football nationwide, along with dubious new policy to govern field collisions, driven by states’ rush to enact anti-concussion laws.

Critics Doubt Efficacy of NP testing for concussion diagnosis, ‘return to play’

Today’s general view that concussion management works or can work in tackle football is rendered highly suspect, if not effectively discredited, by independent review and mounting adverse opinion of experts and witnesses like players.

Linebacker Fujita notes he hasn’t been measured on neural baseline for two NFL seasons. Might not matter, anyway, for computerized NP testing has taken a systematic beating by reviewers of late. Observations and findings of medical literature from 2005 to 2010, listed without full author groups or first names, include:

*Randolph et al, 2005, for Journal of Athletic Training: “Despite the theoretic rationale for the use of NP testing in the management of sport-related concussion, no NP tests have met the necessary criteria to support a clinical application at this time. Additional research is necessary to establish the utility of these tests before they can be considered part of a routine standard of care… until NP testing or other methods are proven effective for this purpose.”

*Patel et al, 2005, for Sports Medicine: “Numerous guidelines have been published for grading and return-to-play criteria following concussion; however, none of these have been prospectively validated by research and none are specifically applicable to children and adolescents.”

*Mayers, 2008, for Archives of Neurology: “Current guidelines result from thoughtful consensus recommendations by expert committees but are chiefly based on the resolution of symptoms and the results of neuropsychological testing, if available. Adherence to this paradigm results in most injured athletes resuming competition in 1 to 2 weeks.”

*Duff, 2009, for ASHA Leader: “Indeed, the identification and management of concussion has become a growing public health issue. Considered to be the fastest-growing sub-discipline in neuropsychology, concussion management poses unique challenges and opportunities for those working with school-aged children. … There is no consensus on the best course of action for concussion management. In fact, there are as many as 22 different published guidelines for grading concussion severity and determining return to play. … Developers are working to collect data regarding reliability, validity, and clinical utility of these (NP) tools; independent replication is still forthcoming.”

*Echemendia et al, 2009, for British Journal of Sports Medicine: “Post-injury assessment requires advanced neuropsychological expertise that is best provided by a clinical neuropsychologist. Significant international differences exist with respect to the training and availability of clinical neuropsychologists, which require modification of these views on a country by country basis.”

*Covassin et al, 2009, for Journal of Athletic Training: “…little is known about the use of baseline neurocognitive testing in concussion assessment and management. … We found that the majority of ATs (athetic trainers) are interpreting ImPACT results without attending a neuropsychological testing workshop. … The use of baseline-testing, baseline testing re-administration, and post-concussion protocols among ATs is increasing. However, the ATs in this study reported that they relied more on symptoms than on neurocognitive test scores when making return-to-play decisions.”

*Maerlender et al, 2010, for The Clinical Neuropsychologist: “Although computerized neuropsychological screening is becoming a standard for sports concussion identification and management, convergent validity studies are limited.”

*Piland et al, 2010, for Journal of Athletic Training: “Obtaining (self-reported symptom) statements before a concussion occurs assists in determining when the injury is resolved. However, athletes may present with concussion-related symptoms at baseline. … In other words, some post-concussive symptoms occur in persons who have not sustained concussions, rendering the specificity of alleged post-concussive symptoms suspect.”

*Schatz, 2010, for American Journal of Sports Medicine: “Computer-based assessment programs are commonly used to document baseline cognitive performance for comparison with post-concussion testing. There are currently no guidelines for how often baseline assessments should be updated, and no data documenting the test-retest stability of baseline measures over relevant time periods.”

*Comper et al, 2010, for Brain Injury: “Despite the proliferation of neuropsychological research on sports-related concussion over the past decade, the methodological quality of studies appears to be highly variable, with many lacking proper scientific rigour. Future research in the area needs to be carefully controlled, repeatable and generalizable, which will contribute to developing practical, evidence-based guidelines for concussion management.”

*Eckner et al, 2010, for Current Sports Medicine Reports: “The sports medicine practitioner must not rely on any one tool in managing concussion and must be aware of the strengths and limitations of whichever method is chosen…”

Unfortunately, software packages like ImPACT, long criticized for its direct connections to the NFL, are widely employed as cornerstone for concussion evaluation and typically by untrained clients, as literature and news reports confirm.

A trusting public opinion reigns foremost because of America’s loyalty and lust for football that has killed thousands of players, mostly children, while physically and cognitively disabling millions over some 130 years of the purely tackle game, according to collective documentation in science, history and communication study.

Mainstream media, meanwhile, construct feel-good gridiron mythology. Sport media literally underwrite the happy concussion outlook by privileging and parroting the game’s official claim that brain trauma can be minimized and controlled. Contemporary mainstream media show scant interest for seeking credible counterclaim or opposing information.

Root of it all, grounding the message, is clinical philosophy of a few media-favorite sources—experts sanctioned by the NFL too, not coincidentally—led by neurologists such as Dr. Cantu. They espouse tools like ImPACT but only, they say, for helping diagnose a concussion and, most importantly for legalize, aiding a multi-faceted approach for returning the player to action.

Respected researcher and athletic trainer Kevin Guskiewicz stands firm in the Cantu camp, whose members today align with the NFL and football at-large, preaching that “concussion awareness” and “behavior modification” can save the game in largely present form, tens of thousand programs youth to adult.

“I think we’re headed in the right direction,” said Guskiewicz, PhD and chair of the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of North Carolina. Last year he was appointed to concussion committees for the NFL, NFLPA and NCAA.

In recent past, colleagues Guskiewicz and Cantu criticized the NFL and union for foolishly challenging evidence linking the game to long-term cognitive impairment in retired players. But now Guskiewicz and Cantu are on-board with the NFL, avowing faith in new research, concussion management and rules enforcement while also receiving funding from “The League.”

The Cantu camp believes that lofty change and awareness for head injury can reform pro football and “trickle down” through the sport’s vast outback, thousands of cash-strapped colleges, schools and youth leagues.

But they affirm a daunting problem cited by critics: The education and adherence on part of millions of people, beginning with child athletes, for building the theoretical wall of concussion prevention and treatment within prevailing economic and political forces of inherently brutal football.

Guskiewicz is confident though. “We’ve come a long way in the last five years,” he said during a recent phone interview, speaking of protocols for diagnostic and return-to-play decisions. “We have validated neurocognitive testing, we have validated balance or postural stability testing,” he countered for doubters.

“I think the hardest part has been trying to convince the users (of tools), the clients, meaning all the high schools out there, colleges, even the pro teams,” Guskiewicz continued. “I mean, at NFL level, they’ve only over the last two years mandated (ImPACT or like NP) testing for all their football players. And they’ve put into place and standardized, to some extent, return-to-play protocols and having independent neurologists be part of the evaluation process.”

“I think the science has actually been there. I think it’s just been the ability to convince the end user that we need to remove the guesswork from concussion management and begin to put more objective data on decision-making to return to play.”

Guskiewicz qualified charges of invalidity for protocols as “bullshit” during a tough give-and-take with this skeptical analyst. “I’ve published two or three papers,” he replied, “that show the one week (layoff)—if you have the right tools, and you have the right recovery curves information, and you’re using the right instruments—that on average (athletes) recover within a week to 10 days, and that 75 percent of the repeat concussions within the same season occur within about a 10-day window. So there’s data out there for that.’

Such data fuel ongoing debate that includes polar-opposite interpretations. Even some football researchers who use NP protocols are cautious, associates of Cantu and Guskiewicz such as Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, neurologist for NCAA teams, director of Michigan Neurosport, and their fellow member on the NFL concussion committee reshaped in past year by Goodell.

“First, concussion is a complicated injury,” Kutcher testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Jan. 4, 2010. “We know from other brain disorders that there is a tremendous amount of variability between individuals. When a mechanical force is applied, we do not expect one brain to react the same as another.”

“Computerized neurocognitive testing is used as an extension of our physical examination, rather than a decision tool unto itself. With little published clinical data to help make (RTP) decisions, there is very little that we can point to and say this is when it’s safe to go back.”

“Relying on (clinical) protocols is, in my opinion, potentially dangerous,” Kutcher said, “as they assume that conclusions are similar enough to each other to fit a predetermined paradigm.”

Other concussion experts rip NP testing, further removed themselves from American football or entirely independent.

Dr. Omalu is certainly labeled an outsider by NFL powerbrokers, whom he’s battled since finding evidence of toxic brain proteins, chronic traumatic encephalopathy or “CTE,” during his landmark 2002 autopsy of Hall of Fame lineman Mike Webster. Omalu bluntly calls computerized NP assessment a “scientific fraud” for promoted or implied reliability.

Omalu, of his legal expertise, extensive courtroom experience, along with having examined thousands of brains, many damaged, says one researcher-marketer claimed his software had determined a concussed teen could safely return to play. Omalu objected: “I challenged him, ‘How can you say a patient is cured because he passed (your test)? Based on what?’ ”

“He became very defensive and started attacking me. I just told him, ‘Just to avoid medical-legal issues, somebody suing you, don’t make such statements.’ ”

Controversy dogs research and experts funded within the football umbrella

Allegations of shoddy research and unethical experts have followed football since the 1990s, when the NFL began in-house studies of brain injury and possible treatments, particularly for returning concussed players to action.

Debate thrives still, hotter than ever, angry and insulting, inflaming the entwined circles of football experts, the fully independent experts, and those straddling middle with a foot in each side. Most everyone but the bona fide independents receives or is connected to football funding, like a fresh $1 million the NFL spread among researchers and institutions a month ago.

Today’s science or scientific attempts surrounding brain trauma in megalith American football cover the scale of strong, flimsy and invalid. But the muddling mess is more about everyone’s necessity than someone’s conspiracy, about the reality of a modern society talking lofty ideals, ethics, while functioning primarily on economics, politics.

So-called validating research of anything anymore is subject to bias, spin, lying—for gaining precious opinion leverage geared for the money. Many individuals feel caught around Big Football, good people and bad, closed in by one door or another. In fact, only about half the experts of all types queried for this analysis would respond; fewer commented on record.

Scientific controversy reaches beyond tackle football in sport entertainment, including to the WWE, and author-blogger Irvin Muchnick observes: “The concussion story is more than the sum of the blocking and tackling by dueling experts. It is also the story of a process: the ecosystem of clinical research, an interdependent web of leading doctors, research journals, and commercial interests.”

As concussion storm overtook football and particularly the NFL in the 2000s, for convincing pathological evidence led by Omalu findings, journalists began to examine validity of research that encompasses concussion management. One writer was Peter Keating, of ESPN The Magazine and network show Outside The Lines, who produced reports such as investigative content based on insider accusations of misconduct by NFL officials and associates.

Keating encountered several provocative figures, and quite intriguing were a pair of neuropsychologists in Pittsburgh, co-entrepreneurs who worked in sports: Mark R. Lovell and Michael W. “Micky” Collins. Lovell was then the NFL’s director of neuropsychological testing, having worked with the Steelers for a decade on diagnosing head injuries and returning players to game action.

Lovell and Collins, researchers with PhDs, were lightning rods for allegations even from prudent professionals in science, medicine and athletic training. Their business venture along with third partner Dr. Joseph Maroon, Steelers neurosurgeon and NFL concussion committeeman, was ImPACT computerized NP testing—their prize product and magnet for criticism.

Today ImPACT is used by a reported 1,000 high schools, 300 colleges and 250 sports-med facilities, which typically promote the online tool for handling young athletes amid concussion crisis. A client pays $500 to $700 annually and training of novice personnel costs extra, for small workshops held in Pittsburgh.

In August 2007, Keating and The Magazine published a report taking ImPACT business to task, particularly Lovell in his capacity: “The National Football League’s director of neuropsychological testing is also the chairman of a company that sells testing software to NFL teams, a dual role which raises conflicts of interest.”

Keating continued: “Lovell’s overlapping roles (in multiple sports) and financial interest in ImPACT have drawn criticism from several doctors and athletic trainers working in the field of sport concussion. Their ire has intensified as Lovell sometimes has not identified himself as one of ImPACT’s developers in his scientific research. … ‘It is a major conflict of interest, scientifically irresponsible,’ says Christopher Randolph, professor of neurology at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago and former team neuropsychologist for the Chicago Bears. ‘We are trying to get to what the real risks are of sports-related concussion, and you have to wonder why they are promoting testing. Do they have an agenda to sell more ImPACTs? And if you’re writing a paper and you have anything to do with a company involved, it’s imperative that you disclose it.’ ”

Keating noted “almost all of the research supporting ImPACT has been written or co-written by its inventors. For example, Lovell and Collins are co-authors of all 19 of the publications listed in the ‘Reliablity and Validity’ section on the ImPACT Web site.”

Nothing has changed on the ImPACT site, apparently still displaying the page Keating examined in 2007, the same articles by Lovell, Collins et al vouching for the application’s worth in sport. The latest articles still date at 2006.

Lovell, Collins and Susan Manko, PR director for University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, employer of the research duo, did not respond to questions recently forwarded each by email.

Guskiewicz vouches for Lovell and Collins although he doesn’t use their software, as a staunch proponent himself of concussion management in football. “Yeah, ImPACT (marketers do) publish—they are the authors on some of the papers, so it looks like industry-funded research,” Guskiewicz said. “They’ve been criticized about that, but I think over the past five or six years, there’s been bit of a change there, in terms of other people publishing, you know, using that instrumentation.”

“I just had a conversation with my own doctoral students, saying that we gotta start looking, unfortunately, to industry,” Guskiewicz said of UNC research funded by the NFL. “They’re the ones who have the money right now. But if you sign a good contract with them and have your attorney looking at that contract closely, you make sure you don’t get yourself into a situation where you’re allowing them to have too much control over the data collection and where ultimately it’s published.”

Questions of competing values in concussion management is focus of researcher L. Syd M. Johnson, postdoctoral fellow in neuroethics at Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, where she examines the practice in youth sport. “The research has shown pretty conclusively that repetitive head trauma is a risk factor for serious cognitive impairment in athletes and ex-athletes,” Johnson stated in email. “Now we are entering the next phase of the problem, which is figuring out what to do about it, and where the conflicts of interest might arise.”

“I’m not saying that doctors or researchers are acting unethically. But this is an area where such conflicts could potentially arise, and so vigilance is required, as well as attention to issues of research and medical ethics.”

Epidemiologist Charles E. Yesalis works outside concussion management in football, but the independent scientist sees analogy in his expertise of drug use by athletes, specifically the in-house setup of research for ineffective anti-doping—or “prevention” testing in that issue. “That’s something that’s really kept me in the drug research, because the politics are so interesting, to see how (the issue) plays out in the cultural aspects and so forth,” Yesalis said in a phone interview.

And head injury is bigger than doping, Yesalis says, with higher stakes for tackle football because smoking-gun evidence links long-term problems of former players. In response, the NFL and all of football must claim remedy is possible—or concede nothing can be done.

“The intricate part of the culture of the game, violence, isn’t going away anytime soon,” Yesalis said. “It’s very obvious why the NFL is concerned about this. I think that’s why they’re dumping money on this, and this academic show. … This is going to eclipse the drug problem, and it probably already has.”

Like anti-doping in sport, invalid and woefully funded, Yesalis believes some experts are in too-deep with American football, ethically and legally, for their promising to police head injury with tools lacking proper vetting. Funding is paltry, regardless of a few million thrown around by billion-dollar profiteers.

Neuropsychological tests both written and computerized are good in theory but far from proven for sound specificity and sensitivity, only possible through peer review and replication in the realm of long-term, random clinical trial.

“In medicine, that’s your gold standard, random clinical trial,” Yesalis said. “The proof in the pudding would be, at one year later, two years later, or three years down the road, ten years down the road: What is the neurological health status of the patient?”

“I’m not dismissing clinical intuition (for NP testing), some of these neurologists. But any of those men or women who are scientists will admit that is a [ital]huge[ital] distance from a random clinical trial.”

“Let’s put it this way: Some of the best physicians in the United States and worldwide at one time believed in bleeding people, and making people vomit for treatments. They really believed in these methods, that was their clinical intuition at the time… And, um, that’s why we have clinical trials.”

Evidence, expert opinion prescribe longer rest for every concussed athlete, any age

Dr. Omalu also has brain slides of Nathan Stiles, for microscopic cellular analysis by his team of the Brain Injury Research Institute at West Virginia University, which does not receive funding from the NFL or union.

Omalu declined comment on the Stiles case, but he suggests the recent football tragedy was preventable had anyone listened to him and others before. His conservative proposal of lengthy rest for every concussed juvenile athlete is truly representative of the cry currently distorted by football supporters, “When in doubt, sit ’em out,” as if mere days or few weeks were something above minimally ethical precaution.

Omalu explains, repeating, why longer minimum recovery for any head injury must be readily accepted and practiced universally by American football. And politicians currently riding popular bandwagon should look to Omalu’s stance, for mandating real law over toothless state drafts they file presently—thanks especially to Big Football’s opinion-shaping tentacles infesting thought and influence of every major institution in this society.

Omalu stresses there exists no exceptionally tough brain for the human species by any specimen, from giant football player down to tiny infant.

Omalu challenges anyone to argue otherwise. An avowed Christian and passionate scientist, boasting numerous medical certifications and academic degrees crossing several disciplines, Omalu stands his ground convincingly. The human brain became his lifelong study, fascinating him, the most delicate and mysterious life organ, while his path has been earnest, leading him to forge milestone history of sport medicine—and incur wrath of Big Football and Associates.

“I know how I discovered (CTE) in Mike Webster. I wasn’t in search of any fame, or any recognition. I was just a young man who was [ital]intrigued[ital]by brain trauma,” he recalled. “I realized we didn’t know so much about a brain. So I was just doing my bit to understand. I thought the brain was a very sexy organ, honestly. I thought the brain was beautiful. I thought the brain was more beautiful than the best-looking woman on earth.”

“So because of that enthusiasm, and the excitement, I stumbled across something which I recognized… and God gave me the courage to present it to the world. It was something good.”

Omalu, a soccer player in his Nigerian youth, does not cop tickets from anybody in American football. He does not attend Super Bowls, wouldn’t even on comp, and won’t be in the grandstand at local schools. Doesn’t want to. He cannot watch the nationalistic sport for the evident, genetic carnage among smallest children and largest men.

He is astounded the culture comprehends bone injury for a colliding football player while typically disregarding cerebral trauma as though unseen, benign.

“Because of short-term adrenaline rush, OK?” Omalu declared in zeal that American writers often label as bitterness; typically they misunderstand, non-comprehend, for their ethnocentrism peculiar to football denial. “Almost a masochistic attitude,” Omalu hissed.

“You want to excite people! Almost reminds of the old, ancient Roman gladiatorial sport. You want people to yell and scream! Just for the season. Just for the moment! Meanwhile, you are sacrificing the life of an individual.”

Narrowing to medical analysis, making a base comparison easy for Football America, Omalu discusses and teaches the volatility of head trauma capable of combusting upon further pounding into lasting damage.

“The brain is a post-mitotic organ. It means the brain cells do not have the ability to divide and create new cells. … A very good example I always give people: When you suffer a stroke, your stroke cannot be cured (at cellular level). Once you’ve suffered a stroke, it is permanent. Even if you die 50 years later and we examine your brain, we see the stroke. It creates a space in your brain.”

“Same applies to concussions. A concussion is simply fracture. You know how you break your bone? That is what a concussion is, but now it is on the cellular level. A concussion is a fracture of the skeleton of the brain cells. If you fracture your bone, the NFL will keep you out of play for the entire season. They say it is a season-ending injury. But the bone has the ability to divide, and create new bone, and heal. A fracture can become healed, OK?”

“But—a fracture of the brain, which is a concussion, does not have the ability to heal as well as the bone. The bone is more resilient, but somebody fractures his bone you keep him out of play for three months. But if somebody fractures his brain? You keep him out of play for only two weeks? Does that make sense even if you’re not a doctor?”

Does for Dr. Cantu in many cases. He says he’s secure in knowing most concussed players return to football rapidly, and he does not endorse mandated lengthy rest in every case regardless of severity. “We don’t have the evidence to say that should be the case for all players, no. Those who clear very, very quickly—symptoms are over in less than an hour, or less than a day—I think can safely go back a week after they’re asymptomatic.”

“But it’s true: There are a lot of questions still to answer,” Cantu added. “There are real issues with regard to taking on this trauma quite young in life. But I don’t think we quite know enough about what the risks are.”

Guskiewicz dismisses Omalu regarding longer rest. “I heard him say that. I was in a meeting when he proposed that, and to be honest with you, there’s no science behind that three-month thing. It could be six months, it could be one month (for some cases),” Guskiewicz said.

Others disagree, seeing scientific grounding for the general proposal of longer rest, based on evidence and opinion of works including Guskiewicz, a 2003 study on NCAA football players he co-authored with at least one colleague who has since expressed differing interpretation of outcomes.

Some supporters of longer rest note decades of autopsy results on boxers, like amateurs who died of brain bleeds and with scarring apparent. But all found argument on a 1994 study published by [tialThe Lancet[ital] that found trauma lasting up to 99 days following head injury in patients who were asymptomatic at their deaths of other causes. In addition, proponents are excited and rather convinced about diffusion tensor imaging, research developments at Purdue and Wayne State universities involving this functional MRI for detecting lasting trauma in victims observably symptom-free. Concussion is only one focus of these experts, who likewise examine the progressive injury of recurring blows that worsen without symptoms.

Even a Cantu team member once entertained the idea of longer rest for concussed athletes, before recently partnering-up with the NFL. Boston neuropath Dr. Ann McKee is Cantu’s research partner in charge of autopsy at the Sports Legacy Institute and the Center for Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. Like Omalu of the competing BIRI, she’s the one producing findings of destruction in brain tissue of deceased football players.

McKee suggested in late November 2009 she might support longer sidelining of all brain-injured football players. “My thinking is that you really need to rest that nerve cell, and those nerve cells are very jarred by the experience,” she told Ray Suarez of PBS NewsHour. “They have all sorts of microscopic and metabolic changes that actually go on for weeks after that injury. So, you have a concussion one day, and, six weeks out, your nerve cell is still slightly unsettled. It’s not really back to its resting state. And if you are injured a second time while you are already in this sort of limbo state, the consequences are much greater.”

But barely one year later, last month, McKee was quoted about Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The emerging NFL star had just suffered his second concussion in as many months, and some experts wondered whether he should sit longer than when declared asymptomatic through NP testing.

“We don’t know the answer to that,” McKee told Wisconsin Outdoor Fun magazine. “Generally, if he’s cleared from his concussion he should be able to play.” Rodgers returned to football after a 10-day layoff and has since led Green Bay to the Super Bowl, absorbing headshots along the way. (On Feb. 6 when the Packers face the Steelers, Rodgers will encounter All-Pro linebacker James Harrison, branded villain of vicious hits by league officials and many media.)

McKee declined a recent question forwarded by this analyst, seeking clarification of her stance regarding longer rest. “I am overwhelmed with requests,” McKee emailed in reply on Dec. 20, ignoring the offer to answer at her convenience by email or phone.

Based on her published quotes about Rodgers’ fast comeback from concussion No.2, McKee steps now with Cantu philosophy that every concussion case is different for individual variables and thus no single guideline fits all.

The same Wisconsin story contained rebuttal by neurologist and imaging expert Dr. Randall R. Benson, who argued the uncertainties of individuality in head injury constitute exactly the reason for longer recovery in every football case, a genuine medical precaution.

“There is a vulnerable period, and that vulnerable period does not go away within a couple of days,” said Benson, of Wayne State University School of Medicine, who was frightened at prospect of what became rapid return for the twice-concussed Rodgers. “That vulnerable period is there for weeks and sometimes months, at least a couple months, depending on the severity of the original incident.” Benson argued that diffusion tensor imaging of Rodgers’ condition might have shown the quarterback needed rest for months.

A further question of safe recovery for head injury concerns whether a standard of complete isolation first—several days to weeks devoid of external stimulation, spent largely in sleep—should apply to a diagnosed concussed athlete.

Athletes of any age typically begin NP testing within about 48 hours post-concussion, pushed by urgency of returning to play if possible. Some experts question the practice as potentially harmful while Omalu outright condemns it, convinced lasting cellular harm occurs in some cases at least. Written and computerized assessments are neurologically stressful, any expert agrees.

For example, the patented software Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing, headlined as “Valid. Reliable. Safe.” on its Web-site homepage, challenges the brain as designed. The online test is eight parts, requiring 20-30 minutes, and “the athlete is asked to remember words, shapes, letters and colors and must do so against a backdrop of intentional distraction,” wrote columnist John Doherty, certified athletic trainer and licensed physical therapist.

Acute head injury has no need of that, Omalu argues, especially for mere sport. “The brain is an electrical organ, just like the heart,” he said. “And the basic fundamental currency of brain function is what we call AP, for action potential. And AP is simply an electrical current generated across the membrane of the brain cell. OK?”

“What generates that electrical current is the movement of ions, sodium and potassium, and sometimes chloride. Sodium, potassium, chloride ions cross the membrane, and in order to do that, they move through channels in the cell membrane. Am I making sense? All brain function goes through this basic mechanism. All brain function, everything that defines you as a human being, goes through this basic mechanism I have explained.”

“Now, when you suffer the concussion—concussion disrupts the membranes of the brain cells, as the skeleton of the brain cells. It disrupts these channels! So what happens is trauma. What you do is remove the person from all types of stimulation.”

Omalu expresses incredulity for sport officials’ insistence on neuropsychological assessments during acute phase of injury. “Doctors who are out there, who are not associated with the NFL, will tell you that if somebody suffers a concussion and you subject him to the testing, it makes symptoms worse,” he said.

Many general practitioners agree at least in principle, based on media reports of concussed juvenile athletes sidelined months and longer by doctors, including a Texas boy being withheld from football for two years. Expert references also support Omalu’s concern about NP testing in sport, with the practice dating to NFL of the early 1990s at Pittsburgh, the work of Lovell and Maroon with the Steelers.

In December 2004, neuropsychologist William B. Barr of New York, then a consultant for the Jets and a Guskiewicz co-author, spoke during a conference at Madison Square Garden, discussing their recent study involving 3,000 college players. “Barr talked about some of the findings from that NCAA study,” Keating later reported. “He said the research indicated that the best time to do neuropsychological tests on players with concussions was after their symptoms had completely cleared, usually five to 10 days after the trauma.”

Barr did not respond to a recent request for comment.

In 2008, Dr. Lester Mayers addressed isolation and lengthy rest in his review of return-to-play criteria for Archives of Neurology, subtitled “A Need for Revision.” Mayers, director of sports medicine at Pace University, wrote, “During recovery in the first few days after concussion, it is important to emphasize to the athlete that physical and cognitive rest are required. Activities that require concentration and attention may exacerbate symptoms and delay recovery.”

Mayers found credible research indicated “that safe RTP might require at least 4 to 6 weeks to facilitate more complete recovery and to protect from reinjury, reported by Guskiewicz et al (including Barr) to occur much more frequently in the immediate period after a concussion. Consequently, for athletes competing in many sports, concussion would be a season-ending injury.”

“This idea is a significant departure from current practice and will probably provoke concern and resistance at all levels of sport,” Mayers concluded. “Nevertheless, given the prevalence of sports head injury and the numbers of young brains at risk, a post-concussion RTP interval of at least 4 weeks is imperative. Future studies that use longer follow-up periods may conclude that even this time requires extension to permit complete healing."

Real football experts sound off: NFL players debunk 'behavior modification'

Browns linebacker Scott Fujita is a doctor of football collision, expert of highest degree, and he concludes theory of behavior modification to eliminate helmet contact is scientific mumbo-jumbo, or the null hypothesis.

"I don't think anybody wants to appear irresponsible, but when it comes down to it, you know, that's just the reality of this business," Fujita said this week. "The helmet-to-helmet stuff, that's gonna happen. The facemask stuff, that's gonna happen. That's just part of the game, and all of us (players), we do understand the inherent risks of playing football. That's a given."

"As far as the physics are concerned and the technique changes they want to see in players, to me what they're asking is impossible."

Researchers for the NFL say risk of brain trauma in football can be reduced and controlled if players, coaches and others cooperate.

"I firmly believe that we can prevent these injuries," said Guskiewicz at UNC, "as well as the long-term consequences of head impact with behavior modification, and changing the way in which these players attempt to tackle. We'll get to concussion prevention sooner by focusing on behavior modification, which will involve everybody: coaches, parents, players, athletic trainers, trained coaches at every level."

"I think that we need better coaching clinics," Guskiewicz continued. "We need coaches to be held more accountable. Again, it's a trickle-down effect. At the NFL level, you shouldn't have to teach technique. The fines have been levied this year and we've seen a difference already. So I'm convinced it's a trickle-down effect. If we can show it can be done at (NFL) level, then we sure as heck can begin to get college and high-school coaches to begin focusing on it."

Focusing on what, however, remains unclear for players and coaches of any level, according to Fujita. Following the Oct. 17 game of his Browns versus the Steelers, which resulted in $75,000 in fines for Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison, no one was sure about anything. Fujita said a clarification attempt by the league office was no help.

"They sent around a DVD for all the clubs to watch," Fujita recalled. "And we sat in the team meeting room to watch this video. It was supposed to be kind of what was a fair hit and what was an illegal hit. And we watched that video, players and coaches alike, and we walked out of that room more confused then when we were going in."

"To me, that kind of tells the story, about where this thing's at and how there's so much gray area. The messages are so mixed right now."

Dr. Cantu tries to simplify, calling for enforcement of existing football mandate against "butting" with the head or facemask, a rule since 1976. "I think the rules ought to be changed both with regard to practices and the amount of hitting, and with regard to (referees') calling the rules correctly," Cantu said. "The helmet is not to be the initial point of contact in blocking or tackling, and the rule is on the high-school and college rulebooks. It's almost never called."

Because the rule is faulty, unenforceable for the dictating physics of tackle football that channel helmet clashes, say critics like retired NFL tight end Nate Jackson, backed by referees for schools and colleges who requested anonymity for this story.

"When you are in an athletic position, and you're trying to move somebody, you're leaning forward, your knees are bent, and your head is the tip of the spear," said Jackson, a budding writer, during in a phone interview this week. "There's no way to be running forward, moving forward, and to be powerful without using your head. That's how you're taught to hit, and if you don't do it that way, then you get trampled by everyone who does it that way. So you learn."

"I had to block guys who were 50 pounds heavier than me, and the only possible way was to shoot off out of a cannon, head-first, and hit 'em in the face with my face. I mean, that was my goal on every play. There was no way to avoid that. I knew that was the only way I was going to get the job done."

"I saw stars all the time," continued Jackson, who retired in 2008 after seven years in the NFL. "I saw stars when I would knock myself silly, but it was either that or getting made to look like a fool on film. And then get called out in meetings. And then, just cut from the team. I knew that was worse for me than seeing stars, and so I led with my head."

Fujita said, "You talk about the physics, and that's one of the things we (players) talk about all the time, is trajectory angles and going full-speed, and (now) how you're supposed to change your point of contact trying to hit a moving target who's comin' up, comin' down, sticking his foot in the ground and moving."

Football contact finalizes instantly, physically and cognitively, among parties powerful and athletic seeking leverage.

"There are so many moving parts in this game, that what they're asking... is impossible," Fujita repeated, wondering if "safer" contact is just another smearing of lipstick on football brutality, or the time-honored PR tact of officials who seek to absolve the system of blame and affix it solely on individuals.

"What do they want us (players) to do about it?" Fujita posed of irremovable violence. "I don't know. If you take that part of it away, there's no longer contact football, which America loves. And that's just the reality of it."

"Whether that means football is going to be doomed in the future? Perhaps. That could be the reality we all face, not in the too far future."

Matt Chaney is a journalist, editor, publisher and teacher living in Missouri, USA. Email him at For more information, including about his 2009 book, Spiral of Denial: Muscle Doping in American Football, visit the homepage at 


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