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December 10, 2012

NFL violent deaths show league must improve focus on education

DALLAS — The National Football League and its union, which had two players involved in three violent deaths in a week, may face increased pressure to improve how they help players with mental-health and substance-abuse issues because of fan expectations.

"It's critical that the league and the union get in front of these issues in a very public way," Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon, said in an email. "Fans will want to know: 'What are you doing about this?'"

Cowboys defensive tackle Josh Brent was charged with intoxication manslaughter following a car crash over the weekend that killed his teammate and friend Jerry Brown. A week earlier, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend before killing himself with a gunshot to his head outside Arrowhead Stadium.

The deaths have rocked the nation's most popular sport at a time when television ratings for NFL games are at an all-time high and league revenue has surged to about $9.3 billion.

The NFL and its 32 teams, along with law-enforcement officials and counselors, educate rookies at an annual symposium and at other times of the year on issues including guns, alcohol, prescription drugs and other substance abuse, league spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an e-mail.

"We also emphasize personal responsibility and decision- making," McCarthy said.

Before Sunday's game against the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Cowboys players bowed their heads and some covered their hearts during a moment of silence. The Cowboys won 20-19.

"Our team is grieving," Dallas owner Jerry Jones said in an interview on Fox television. "There's something more important than football and this is life, and certainly the lost life of Jerry."

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