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Mike Reiss | Football notes

Straightening out the hair

Clarifications help untangle the issue

TROY POLAMALU He'd be affected TROY POLAMALU He'd be affected
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Mike Reiss
Globe Staff / May 18, 2008

Hair we go again.

When NFL owners gather in Atlanta for a one-day business meeting Tuesday, one item on the agenda is the reintroduction of the Kansas City Chiefs' proposal that would prohibit players' hair from going over the name or number on the back of their jersey.

The proposal generated significant buzz in late March at the owners' last meeting, but was ultimately tabled. Commissioner Roger Goodell felt more information-gathering was required, pointing out that he was aware of sensitivities - such as racial and cultural issues - around it.

Now the proposal is back, and with some more time to digest and discuss it, there seems to be more understanding among all involved.

Mainly, players who might have been initially upset now realize the proposal wouldn't require them to cut their hair, just tuck it in their helmets. And the Chiefs have spread word that the proposal is not based on a safety issue, but strictly on the NFL's dress code - just as a jersey must remain tucked in, and socks must be worn a certain way, they feel hair should be tucked in.

So where does the Players Association stand on the proposal?

According to NFLPA president Kevin Mawae, the players are willing to listen, but believe more information - specifically regarding safety - is still needed before a decision is made.

So if the owners are listening to their employees, they won't officially vote on the proposal Tuesday, but instead, keep the discussion alive.

"I think the thing that would concern us the most would be the safety issue, to try to confine and put that much hair under the helmet, because as we know, we have concussions, which is a big issue with the players," Mawae explained.

"A lot of that is determined by the type of helmet and making sure the helmets are properly fitted. The concern was that if players had to bind their hair, or tuck it in, how would that affect the safety worthiness of the helmets?"

The NFLPA has requested that tests be conducted with helmets - and more information be gathered regarding caps that keep hair in place - before the owners vote.

Mawae and other members of the NFL's Player Advisory Council met with Goodell earlier this month to discuss the hair issue, as well as other league matters pertaining specifically to players. Mawae said that of the approximately 1,900 active players in the league (not including incoming rookies), 62 would be directly affected by the hair proposal, according to the Management Council.

When the proposal was first made public in March, much of the attention centered on Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, whose hair extends about halfway down the back of his jersey. Mawae's first reaction was to defend the players.

"There are a number of players, for whatever reason - cultural or whatnot - that have long hair, whether it's dreadlocks or a guy like Polamalu, who is of Polynesian descent and their hair is a source of their power, according to their culture," Mawae said. "Being Polynesian, I understand that. It's something these guys have done their entire lives, and to ask them to do something with their hair . . ."

Mawae explained that once it was clear that players wouldn't have to cut the hair, and that it was about "cleaning up the uniform look," the discussion took a different course. Initially, the impression of many was that the Chiefs had made the proposal because of a 2006 game in which Kansas City running back Larry Johnson pulled Polamalu down by the hair and was penalized, but the club has indicated otherwise.

Mawae said it would be overstating things to say the hair proposal has struck a chord with the players. Based on the feedback he's provided Goodell, he will be surprised if the owners vote on the proposal Tuesday.

"Certainly from a player's perspective, a union stance, we would like for them to have proof that it wouldn't put players at risk by changing the fitting of the helmet," Mawae said. "I think that's the most important thing for us."

In addition to the hair proposal, another item on the agenda will be the awarding of Super Bowl XLVI in 2012. Arizona, Houston, and Indianapolis are the candidates.

Congress may just punt

Where does "Spygate" go from here?

While Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter has called for the NFL to authorize an independent investigation - which is highly unlikely - the sounds of silence are being heard from his fellow lawmakers.

Government involvement would seemingly be the next step to keep Spygate alive, but it doesn't appear as if there is any traction.

"I don't think it's Congress's business, frankly," said Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, who sits on the 19-member Senate Judiciary Committee with Specter. "You might be able to find a rationale for it, but it's not the kind of thing we should be getting involved with."

Kyl feels he has a strong background in the way the NFL conducts business. He worked with the league for years to pass legislation on unlawful Internet gambling.

"I am fully aware of how seriously their desire is to keep clean," said Kyl. "In this case, I am assuming you have to give them the benefit of the doubt. They had an investigation on the matter and meted out punishment. I don't think anyone cares more about the viability of the sport than the commissioner.

"To suggest Congress can do more than the NFL is probably not a good assumption."

Kyl hasn't been the lone voice questioning Specter's investment in the issue. In addition to Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy, who predictably questioned Specter's involvement, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham told ESPN that there is a "better use of our time." Kennedy and Graham are also members of the committee.

For his part, Specter has made it clear that he is not calling on his fellow senators at this point. That's probably a good thing, because no one else appears to have the same interest.

It could be quite a Freak show in Tennessee this season

The second time around has been different for defensive end Jevon Kearse in Tennessee.

When the Titans selected him in the first round of the 1999 draft, Kearse recalled arriving in town from the University of Florida with a chip on his shoulder. Nicknamed "The Freak," he put together an impressive five-year stretch that elevated him to the top ranks of NFL pass rushers.

Kearse left Tennessee after the 2004 season, wooed to Philadelphia by an eight-year, $66 million contract with a $16 million signing bonus. But after four generally disappointing seasons with the Eagles, due in part to injuries, Kearse is back with the Titans and said he no longer has a chip on his shoulder.

Now it's a boulder.

Kearse has been a regular presence at the team facility this offseason, which is a change from his first tenure. With the Titans losing pass-rushing ends Antwan Odom (Bengals) and Travis LaBoy (Cardinals) in free agency, the hope is that Kearse can step back in and return to form.

It could be a platoon-type situation, with Kearse rotating with fourth-round pick William Hayes (Winston-Salem) and free agent signee Bryce Fisher. But Kearse has already stated that he wants the full-time gig.

"I'm still the same player, but that scheme up in Philly was different," Kearse said. "All I've got to say is, proof is in the pudding, so I can't even talk about it. Just watch and see."

It's much too early to print the ballots, but keep an eye on Kearse as a candidate for Comeback Player of the Year.

Etc.

TBA on the CBA
Owners have until November to opt out of the collective bargaining agreement - which would make 2009 the last year with a salary cap - but it's possible the decision could be made this week at the league's business meeting in Buckhead, Ga. The players seem to be expecting the opt-out, so it's just a matter of when, not if. After some turbulence among its membership earlier this year, the Players' Association is feeling better prepared to dig in for the fight. "Despite things that have happened over the last several months, we've come to an agreement that our leadership is in place, and the most important issue we have to deal with is the collective bargaining agreement," said Titans center Kevin Mawae, the union president.

Helpful sign for rookie
The Ravens have already begun negotiating with their first-round draft choice, quarterback Joe Flacco, and that comes as little surprise given that Flacco is represented by agent Joe Linta. While some agents prefer to wait until other contracts are completed so they have a benchmark - which can lead to last-minute negotiations to get a player into training camp - Linta seems to be more comfortable getting out of the gate first. In 2006, he struck the first deal among first-round picks with outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley in Cleveland (not including No. 1 pick Mario Williams, who had signed before the draft). Linta has had one holdout - former Chiefs lineman Will Shields, when he was a franchise player as a veteran - and this year's early negotiations are aimed at making sure Flacco is in camp on time, because Linta believes quarterback and offensive line are two positions where rookies must be there from the start if they hope to contribute. "I think players reap more benefits by getting on the field faster," said Linta, "and you can only get on the field when you have the deal done."

Jets QB job is a toss-up
The Jets say they have an open competition at quarterback with Chad Pennington and Kellen Clemens, so how did the club handle the situation last week at organized team activities? Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer pulled out a quarter, flipped it in the air, and had Pennington make the call. Pennington's "heads" call was correct, so he was the starter for the first practice. Clemens stepped in for the second practice, and the two will rotate over the 15 offseason sessions.

Tight spot for Browns?
When the Browns held their first week of voluntary organized team activities, tight end Kellen Winslow was absent. A coincidence, it appears not. Winslow has three years left on his contract and has made it known he'd like an extension. While the organized team activities are voluntary, most players treat them otherwise, and thus by staying away Winslow seems to be making a mini-statement. For their part, the Browns protected themselves by trading up in the fourth round to select tight end Martin Rucker of Missouri, giving them added depth.

Throwing out new ideas
One of the early impressions from the Ravens' recent minicamp was the potential impact of Cam Cameron on the club's sagging offense. Cameron, the offensive coordinator, is tailoring the team's system to the strengths and weaknesses of the quarterbacks, which some suggest is a change from Brian Billick's regime, which apparently favored a more rigid, system-first approach. Prior to his disastrous season in Miami last year, Cameron had spent five seasons in San Diego as offensive coordinator, helping orchestrate one of the league's most explosive attacks.

Weight off their minds
After all the aggressive free agent moves made in Oakland this offseason, they wouldn't mean as much if the Raiders didn't see progress from quarterback JaMarcus Russell, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2007. While rumors swirled that Russell had ballooned to 300 pounds earlier in the offseason, he took the field last week and proudly announced he was at 269. That's a relief to the Raiders faithful, and especially coach Lane Kiffin, who said the difference from what he saw from Russell was "night and day."

Extra points
The Falcons and representatives for quarterback Matt Ryan have opened contract negotiations . . . Jaguars defensive end Paul Spicer stayed away from the club's voluntary organized team activities last week because he wants an upgraded contract . . . Brian Williams, a starter at cornerback the last two seasons in Jacksonville, worked at safety in the team's OTAs . . . Safety Greg Wesley, who has started 103 games for the Chiefs, is expected to be traded or released by the start of June . . . Falcons safety Jimmy Williams didn't get off on the right foot with the club's new regime, showing up to offseason workouts at 236 pounds, 24 pounds heavier than what the team listed on its official roster . . . Jets tight end Chris Baker, who is dissatisfied with his contract, is remaining away from the team's voluntary OTAs . . . Michael Huff, a 2006 first-round pick of the Raiders, is moving from strong safety to free safety.

Did you know?
Following a suggestion by former Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin, the NFL is requiring all draft picks to visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The idea is to expose them to the history of the game, which might yield a greater appreciation of the opportunity they have. Patriots rookies are scheduled to visit at the end of the month.

Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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