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A salute to the Giants — and to the NFL for stepping up on the danger of concussions

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Posted: Saturday, October 23, 2010 12:00 am | Updated: 6:31 am, Sat Oct 23, 2010.

The Torture Season? It didn't start last April. The San Francisco Giants have been torturing Lodi baseball fans since 1958.

One of the oldest teams in baseball, the Giants have won more games than even the New York Yankees. From 1880 to 1957, the New York Giants won 17 National League pennants and five World Series.

Then they moved to San Francisco. Since then, they have not won the World Series once. That's a drought that rivals the legendary Sad Sacks of baseball, the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians.

The torture begins again this afternoon in Philadelphia. And if they don't win tonight's game, they have another chance Sunday. If this team, distinguished by no player in particular and a nail-biting penchant for winning one-run games, can win one more game, they will be only the fourth San Francisco Giants team to go to the World Series.

We're not sure why the Giants hold such fascination for Lodians. But we do know when this love affair began. When the Giants announced their move San Francisco, it was just another wire story, a far off event with little local impact.

Then retired pitcher turned Giants pitchman Walter Mails walked into the Lodi News-Sentinel office on Pine Street and sat down with a young sports editor named Carl Underwood.

"I was impressed. He had publicity shots of all the players, press releases about the upcoming season and press box tickets," said Underwood yesterday from his home in Columbia, Mo.

From that point on, the San Francisco Giants were a local story in the Lodi News-Sentinel and the talk all over town. The Oakland A's moved here from Kansas City have won four World Series, but even Catfish Hunter, Ricky Henderson and Reggie Jackson have never held Lodi's heart like Tim Lincecum, Buster Posey and the rest of Giants no-stars.

What can we say about tonight's game other than Go Giants!?

Put an end to the torture.

The NFL takes action on concussions

We love the sport of football. The speed, the thrills, the athleticism.

Yes, and the hits.

Yet we are sobered by the findings of Lodi physician Dr. Bennett Omalu, who believes football carries huge and little-understood risks of long-term brain damage.

Omalu is San Joaquin County's chief medical examiner and the author of the book, "Play Hard, Die Young." He has coined the term, "gridiron dementia."

With more data trickling out on the dangers of football and brain injury, we applaud the NFL for this week announcing substantial fines for especially violent hits, including helmet-to-helmet collisions. The NFL is seemingly waking up to the potential damage of concussions, the injuries that occur when the soft tissue of the brain bangs against the hardened shell of the skull.

Concussions can cause all manner of symptoms, from being knocked out to nausea and confusion. Repeated concussions, Omalu believes, can lead to dementia, depression and death.

There remains a fair measure of macho posturing with football, which is an inherently violent game. Yes, it is action-packed and there are certain risks involved in playing it, including the risks of getting hit very hard and getting badly injured.

None of that, though, diminishes the simple fact that we don't know enough about football and concussions. We know that about 100,000 concussions are reported each season by high school players alone, but those numbers are thought to be low. We don't know what that means in terms of long-term brain function.

We are aware, thanks to a New York Times investigation published this week, that football helmets are not keeping up with the brute force of today's players. The standards haven't changed since 1973, and those standards were based on preventing skull fractures, not concussions.

So there is much work yet to be done, much to be learned about the relationship between football trauma and a player's ability, later in life, to speak, to think, to be free of neurological impairment or disease.

The NFL sets the tone for organized football in America. Until we have better answers, and perhaps better helmets, the league is right to take a stronger stand on the hits that often cause injuries of unknown severity. As evidence emerges, it may be that even stronger measures will be needed.

In the meantime, we won't stop watching football. It is too rich, too engaging an autumn ritual for us to forsake. As fans, though, we can't celebrate the vitality of the game without recognizing its dangers.

— The Lodi News-Sentinel

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