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NFL great Lem Barney calls the sport 'deadly,' predicts its demise

June 18, 2013|By Chuck Schilken
  • NFL Hall of Famer Lem Barney talks about head injuries at a camp for high school football players in Southfield, Mich., on Friday.
NFL Hall of Famer Lem Barney talks about head injuries at a camp for high school… (Paul Sancya / Associated…)

The idea of getting a football legend to speak at a high school football camp must have seemed like a great one. 

But the message that Hall of Fame defensive back Lem Barney delivered Friday probably wasn't exactly what the organizers of the Sound Mind Sound Body Camp in the Detroit suburb of Southfield, Mich., had in mind.

Speaking on a panel that also included Michigan's Brady Hoke, Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio and other college coaches, the Detroit Lions legend called the sport "deadly" on more than one occasion and predicted it might no longer exist in a decade or two.

"The game is becoming more deadly today," said Barney, who claims to have suffered seven or eight undiagnosed concussions during his 11-year NFL career. "It's a great game, and I think it's the greatest game if you like gladiators. It's the greatest game for yesteryear’s gladiators. But in the next 10 to 20 years, society will alleviate football altogether because of how strong it's becoming, how big it's becoming and the tenacity that it already is. And it's only going to get worse."

Dantonio and Hoke respectfully tried to point out the growing emphasis on safety in the game today.

"I think there are changes, first of all in technology," said Dantonio, who made a safety presentation at the camp. "There are baselines established in every program now to give you an indication of where [a player is at] when nothing's wrong. ... There's rule changes with no helmet-to-helmet hits, they've taken some of the hits away from players and you teach that. Tackling is not a science, it's an art."

Hoke said: "Is it a fast game, is it a hard-hitting game, a contact game and sometimes violent? There's no question. But at the same time, I think there's better ways we can continue to teach. ... I think there's ways that we can help and especially educate guys at a young age."

Two days after the panel discussion, Barney released a statement saying that while he stands by everything he said, the youth camp was not the right place to state such beliefs.

“While I made comments I believe to be truthful it is apparent to me now that the camp was not the forum for those comments," he said in the statement. "These are the same comments I have made for years before Congress, under oath and at numerous events for retired players and it’s become second nature. I don’t want to discourage young men from their love of the game, I just want the game to be safe.

"What I said were things I feel, things that happened to me, but obviously it was not the right time or place. I have the utmost respect for Coach Hoke, Dantonio, and all MHSAA, CYO, PAL and Pop Warner coaches and I apologize to any of the coaches whom I made uncomfortable at the event. I wish all those involved in our great sport a long, healthy and SAFE career.”

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