Here. We. Go.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Chicago district of the National Labor Relations Board ruled Northwestern football players qualify as employees of the university and can unionize.

The decision came just shy of two months since former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter took the podium at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. Just two months ago, Colter became the inaugural spokesman for the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA). Just two months ago, Colter said an "overwhelming majority" of Northwestern Wildcats football players signed cards in support of CAPA.

And in just two months, CAPA, Colter and the United Steelworkers have achieved a drastic victory for NCAA athlete benefits.

Just two months.



That is Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel, a Northwestern alum.

The Northwestern unionization saga is far from over. Northwestern's Vice President for University Relations Alan K. Cubbage released a statement that the university is "disappointed" by the ruling and "Northwestern believes strongly that our student-athletes are not employees, but students. Unionization and collective bargaining are not the appropriate methods to address the concerns raised by student-athletes. Northwestern plans to appeal to labor authorities in Washington D.C."

It gets more interesting. The current National Labor Relations Board in Washington D.C. includes five members appointed by President Barack Obama, which ESPN's Lester Munson and Tom Farrey note is "more pro-union" than the board appointed by George W. Bush.

According to Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano, two of the members are recess appointees by Obama who may not be able to vote (he says both would vote in favor of unionization).

CAPA and Colter won the first battle. They have the inside leg. The appeals could push the final verdict for an extended period of time. For now, player have the upper hand.

Perhaps it is not a coincidence. Although the general opinion was the Northwestern players would not win, they did. And they did it ridiculously fast.

But how?

While Ed O'Bannon v. NCAA drags on and many former and current NCAA athletes toss around the "pay-for-play" argument, Colter and Northwestern did not. The picture continues to get jumbled. Northwestern players are not asking to get paid for their football skills.

They are asking for two changes. First, the players want a seat at the table. They want to have a union. They want to have some sort of say in where the millions of dollars in football revenue is delegated. Second, from this union, they want to gain a form of insurance or trust fund for their post-playing days.

On Sept. 25, four days after he wore a simple "All Players United" wristband against Maine, Colter said:

"There needs to be a guarantee that players aren't stuck with medical bills after they leave with long-lasting injuries that they suffer from football. Essentially, they’re hurt on the job and then they're stuck with the medical bills if they do need a surgery down the line. That's one of the biggest things. With the TV revenue being generated, they could use a portion of that to help out the players in some way. I feel like there needs to be a trust fund generated. I don't feel like there needs to be a direct compensation, but there needs to a trust fund generated somehow that players can access after they graduate. I feel like that would put incentive for graduation rates to rise."

Colter today:


At the end of the day, when Colter and CAPA put their arguments against Northwestern's, the debate turned.

The players' issues were laid out. College football players put their bodies and time on the line for their school. Although they get a scholarship, most of their academic studies are challenged by the time commitment to football. Much of this time commitment is "mandatory" and part of the scholarship.

TV, merchandise and other forms of revenue have made the college football industry a money machine. When the NCAA started dishing out scholarships, this concept was not put into the equation.

There are six subsections of the "Statement of Facts" section of the Chicago NLRB decision, signed by regional director Peter Sung Ohr. After "Background," the next five subsections are: "The Employer's Football staff and Grant-in-Aid Scholarship Players, "The Employer's Football Players are Subject to Different Rules," "Football Players' Time Commitment to the Sport," "The Recruitment and Academic Life of the Employer's Grant-in-Aid Scholarship Players" and "The Revenues and Expenses Generated by the Employer's Football Program."

That gives those who have not been in the courtroom an idea of what the board saw as important issue. This is especially true for the "Football Players' Time Commitment to the Sport" section, the longest in "The Statement of Facts."

One interesting portion of this section includes an entire breakdown of one particular game weekend. The game in question is a 2012 game at Michigan. Northwestern lost in heartbreaking fashion, 38-31 in overtime. The decision maps out the entire weekend, which started in the early morning that Friday, and ended with a Sunday commitment:

"About half of the games require the players to travel to another university, either by bus or airplane. In the case of an away game against the University of Michigan football team on November 9, 2012, the majority of players were required to report to the N Club by 8:20 a.m. for breakfast. At 8:45 a.m., the offensive and defensive coaches directed a walk-thru for their respective squads.

The team then boarded their buses at 10:00 a.m. and traveled about five hours to Ann Arbor, Michigan. At 4:30 p.m. (EST), after arriving at Michigan's campus, the players did a stadium walk-thru and then had position meetings from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. The coaches thereafter had the team follow a similar schedule as the home games with a team dinner, optional chapel, and a team movie. The players were once again expected to be in bed by 10:30 p.m.

On Saturday, the day of the Michigan game, the players received a wake-up call at 7:30 a.m. and were required to meet for breakfast in a coat and tie by no later than 8:05 a.m. The team then had 20 minutes of meetings before boarding a bus and departing for the stadium at 8:45 a.m. Upon arriving at the stadium, the players changed into their workout clothes and stretched for a period of time.

They afterwards headed to the training room to get taped up, receive any medical treatment, and put on their football gear. About 65 minutes before kickoff, the players took the field and did additional stretches and otherwise warmed-up for the game. At noon, the game kicked off and Head Coach Fitzgerald, in consultation with his assistant coaches, was responsible for determining the starting lineup and which substitutions would be made during the course of the game. While most games normally last about three hours, this one lasted about four hours since it went into overtime. Following the game, the coaches met with the players, and some of those individuals were made available to the media for post-game interviews by the Employer's athletic department staff. Other players had to receive medical treatment and eventually everyone on the roster changed back into their travel clothes before getting on the bus for the five hour drive back to the Evanston campus. At around 9:00 or 10:00 p.m., the players arrived at the campus.

Although no mandatory practices are scheduled on Sunday following that week's football game, the players are required to report to the team's athletic trainers for a mandatory injury check. Those players who sustained injuries in the game will receive medical treatment at the football facility."

Whether people agree or not, the NLRB in the third-largest city in the country says issues like this warrant the right to unionization. People are not going to be happy, but a precedent has been set. Players do not just get a scholarship and call it a day anymore. Their right to have a voice is coming.

The floodgates are open. Northwestern just won in its region. The local precedent has been set. Who is to say that other schools will not do the same?

The rest of the NCAA world has awaited the Northwestern verdict. Most players likely expected the discussion to table for a longer period of time, but it did not. The first chapter is over, the decision came quickly, and the evidence was strong.

Now NCAA players know they can win. On Wednesday, every NCAA private school football player's eyes lit up. If they feared fighting a losing battle, they have no excuse. In the fight for unionization, the scoreboard reads: Players 1, Universities 0.

The players are undefeated.

The NCAA world may be on the eve of a domino effect. The door is open for more players to join in with confidence. If every player starts his (or her) argument with the Northwestern angle, he or she starts with the upperhand. Plus, the more NCAA athletes that push the issue, the more likely their voices will drive change in NCAA sports.

If the NLRB in Washington, the dominos will fall ever faster. And if this case makes it to the Supreme Court, and SCOTUS votes pro-unionization, the floodgates may burst.

Many people have made the argument Northwestern is a bad place to start the unionization conversation. The players are academically-driven and the coaching staff is not overbearing. This makes it a bad template for the problems in college sports.

This is true. However, Northwestern is also the strongest base to start college football unionization. Northwestern's 996 football APR is No. 1 in the nation. Northwestern football players leave practice before media availability to get to class on time. If these players, can unionize, imagine how helpless other universities will be in the courtroom. Northwestern University should have a better defense than almost any NCAA program, yet it lost.

No matter what happens, Northwestern is still going to continue its spring practices and Coach Pat Fitzgerald will lead the Wildcats on the gridiron come fall. Fans will flock to Ryan Field in Evanston and subject to the players' on-the-field execution, Northwestern will compete for a Big Ten title.

Fitzgerald, who had to testify in the case, tweeted this back on Jan. 28:


Fitzgerald, in his Feb. 21 testimony, said college football is not a job and he insisted students can major in whatever subject they choose, despite their football commitment. Northwestern players made a statement the day of the hearing asserting their respect for the school and football program.

Colter reiterated that today:


Of course the university is ticked they will have to pay for more lawyers to go to Washington. Right now, Northwestern is legally getting torn to pieces for a "wrongdoing" it does do as poorly as most (if not all) other NCAA football programs.

But it will not be long before unionization is not just viewed as a Players vs. Northwestern issue.

The floodgates are open and they tide has only led to success thus far. Players have dipped their feet in. Now, the water is safe to swim in.

As for the argument of schools cutting football at the initiation of unionization or pay-for-play, NCAA football is an all-or-nothing industry. With the floodgates open, if unionization is upheld, everyone is joining in.

Then the NCAA will have no option. Then the players will have a seat at the table in one of the country's most popular sports.

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Needless to say it's been a whirlwind week in my life and if you've reached this blog you know that my wife, Jennifer, has been diagnosed with leukemia and is at Johns Hopkins Hospital giving cancer one helluva fight over the next month and beyond.

To say that we've been overwhelmed by the kindness, generosity and sheer humanity of all of the love bestowed upon us over the last three days would be a complete understatement. It was completely unexpected and we'll never forget this crazy period in our lives.

You have inspired us and made us stronger and even more committed through your caring, thoughtful words and the offers we’ve received from every corner of our lives. The acts, words and gestures have left us feeling truly humbled.

A month ago we were in Brisbane, Australia, seeing Bruce Springsteen, and my wife woke up the next morning with an insect bite (we think it was a spider) on her right hand. Two days later it swelled and started to throb. By the time we got to Fiji for our final two days on the beach, she had her hand exclusively in a bucket of ice.

We flew for nearly 36 hours to get home and between the flight, jet lag and general fatigue, she began to feel bad a few days later. On March 12, she went to she her doctor with some deep pain under her right armpit. We were worried about breast cancer and all sorts of bad things.

The docs said it was a swollen lymph node and gave her an antibiotic to fight the infection. The next day she went through a battery of tests -- mammogram, X-rays and blood work to make sure it wasn't more serious. On the afternoon of Wednesday, March 19 she reported back to the doctors who had long faces of concern when we arrived. They handed us a box of face masks and told us to go to the emergency room at Johns Hopkins right away because her white blood cell count was dangerously low. After five hours in the ER, she was admitted and spent the most of the overnight giving blood and getting tested.

At 8 a.m. the next morning, while filling in for Drew Forrester on fumes of sleep, I announced that was coming back onto the radio every day from 3 til 6 p.m. at WNST.net & AM 1570 with a new radio show called "The Happy Hours." I also released Chapter 1 of The Peter Principles, a book I've been working on for almost five months.

The "comeback," set for April 1, was something we've been planning together for nearly six months.

Nine hours later, at 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 20, a doctor entered her hospital room at Hopkins and dropped the biggest bombshell of our lives: "I'm really sorry to tell you that you've got leukemia and you're not going to be leaving the hospital for a long time."

Family, work, friends, goals and dreams -- all of it would have to be addressed and put on hold or readjusted to a "new normal" for us. It broke her heart to know that she couldn't be with our beloved cat, Kitty, for a month. (We've begun since begun Skyping her into chat with our furry companion every morning and night.)

The doctors have told us that if she didn't get the spider bite, which was what sent her to the clinic to begin with, we might've been sitting on a time bomb with her deteriorated immune system. Had she contracted a common cold, it might’ve killed her because her body would've been weakened.

Instead, she checked into the hospital very vulnerable but also very healthy and strong, which they see as a great way for her to start her chemotherapy and aids her chances for recovery during this first month of trying to beat this cancer. Most people wind up being diagnosed with leukemia only after they're extremely sick and weak and frail.

They’ve told us she'll be here in the hospital for at least 30 days and she won't be able to work or function in crowds or near germs and bacteria for 90 more days (in a best case scenario). The docs told Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano the same thing 18 months ago and he spent 26 days in the hospital and got back to work in about 100 days. Pagano has been an incredible "angel" for us. He was literally the first call we made and he spent 30 minutes running us through what to expect and preparing us for many scenarios. He has reached to us every day since her diagnosis with incredible words of encouragement, love and support.

We've learned that there a lot of good people in the world and certainly in the sports world. Steve Bisciotti, Ted Leonsis, John Harbaugh, Marvin Lewis, Jim Schwartz, Brian Billick plus a myriad of athletes, sponsors, listeners, friends -- all of the people who’ve truly gotten to know my wife over the years because of what I do for a living -- everyone has just been so supportive.

With Jenn's mother, father and sister all coming to Baltimore from New Hampshire and Florida over the coming weeks to assist with her care, I'll be returning to the airwaves next Tuesday, April 1 and we plan to try to live life as normally as we can during this trying time. (If you want to help Jenn’s visiting family, please follow this link to Uber.com & enter the promo code: 1ale6. You get $20 in free taxi rides and our family gets $20 and it’s FREE to do it. And Uber is pretty awesome! BTW: We don’t get the family credit until you actually USE Uber and USE your $20.)

During her treatments, it's my goal to laugh with her, honor her and share this experience together while making it as good and as comfortable as it can possibly be for her over the coming weeks and months as she tries to achieve remission and a cure from this insidious disease.

Sadly, even in the best-case scenario, her life will be very restricted over the next four months and perhaps beyond. No Preakness. No Bruce Springsteen in Hershey. No beach time. No Orioles games. And this is after chemo kicks her ass for the next month and we hope that the doctors at Johns Hopkins -- who are universally believed to be the best in the world at beating leukemia – get the right cocktail the first time and that Jenn’s body will be able to handle it.

The good news? They tell us she's got a better than 90 percent chance to beat leukemia and live a long, healthy life once we get through this long phase.

Obviously, to say this has been an emotional firestorm wouldn't do justice to the range and depth of emotions we’ve both experienced over the last week.

I love my wife with all my heart and I don’t care who knows it.

It's kinda been that way since the night we met in Manchester, N.H., on February 8, 2003. It was truly love at first sight. Ask anyone who knows us -- we really dig each other and always have. We’ve traveled the world together, shared our love of music, sports and each other relatively openly in social media in recent years because we think it's normal and natural to be madly in love. And to be "best friends."

In the new era of social media, you share your joy with your friends. And, clearly, so many people consider us "friends" and that's a gift to us.

One of my favorite broadcasters, Dick Schapp once said he "collected people." On my best days, I've hoped to emulate that state of mind and suddenly all of the people that I've collected have simultaneously rallied to the support of my wife and I during our darkest hours and the most trying time in our lives.

Many times we share the joys in life -- holidays, Super Bowl, parties, sports, concerts, parades, dinner with friends, beach time in Fiji or Tahiti or Ocean City -- but inevitably life brings challenges none of us can predict.

Sadly, this time we’ll be sharing some sorrow and my wife will experience a lot of pain but we are holding a strong faith that there will be some massive celebrations at the end of this journey.

If you care to drop my wife a note or a gift of some kind, we're asking that they be sent to:

WNST
1550 Hart Road
Towson, MD 2186

(PLEASE do NOT send flowers!!! She can’t have them in her wing!) ;)

And, yes, I'll be back on the radio at 3 p.m. next Tuesday and every day after that when I can do a show when my wife isn't too ill to leave her side. I’ve promised her that she will never, ever walk alone in this journey. I love her too much for that.

As for financial donations or gifts of that kind, we’re focused on getting Jenn healthy first – and then we’ll be putting together a slew of ideas, events and fundraisers to bring awareness to what we’ve gone through and to make it an easier path for those unfortunate souls in the future.

We don’t know where the end of the road is but firmly believe it will have a happy ending where we…well, you know…live happily ever after.

But for now, we’ll fight. My wife is as tough as a $2 steak!

Jennifer Ford Aparicio is the strongest, most courageous woman I’ve ever known. The day after I met her in 2003 she sent me to a restaurant to get some food and demanded it immediately. She told me to hurry. When I got back, she had a needle in her stomach and a kit on the bed. Turns out she was a Type 1 Diabetic and she thought that many men shied away from her because of that responsibility and she didn’t want to tell me. She was almost embarrassed by it.

The minute I laid eyes on her, I said: “That’s the toughest woman I’ve ever seen.”

Not to mention that’s she’s also the most beautiful girl in the world – an amazing, tough, wonderful spirit who is truly my soul mate.

She takes two needles a day and pricks her fingers several more times a day. We always have orange juice or glucose tablets a few feet away. She's lived this way since she was 19 -- ask any diabetic in your life what it's all about ... trust me, there are more than a few on your Facebook page or at your office.

The good news? Her diabetes doesn't appear to be a significant complication with her leukemia and can be relatively easily managed.

She's one tough cookie, my wife. She's all mind, muscle and determination and finishes things she starts. That’s why I married her.

When she got her first blood transfusion on Friday, she looked at the bag and realized her blood type was: B Positive. She took a picture and posted it.

And shouldn’t we always be positive?

She'll beat this cancer. She’ll slay this leukemia.

It's only a matter of time.

We hope you follow our journey on Facebook and via my new radio show at WNST.net & AM 1570 and remain #JennStrong along with us.

And remember: always #BMorePositive ;)

Love,
Nestor & Jenn

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Stories about big-time college sports programs cutting academic corners have become pervasive enough that such revelations aren't that stunning anymore. But there is still something compelling when you hear details directly from the athletes. HBO's Real Sports takes another look at this issue in an episode that premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET/PT Tuesday. Here's a preview:

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If you missed the premiere of the latest Real Sports on HBO, it is worth catching an encore performance during the next two weeks just to see the segment about guns and kids.

The report focuses on how the National Shooting Sports Foundation is marketing guns to a younger audience, and how lobbying efforts have helped lower age requirements for hunting licenses in many states. There are mixed opinions about this approach.

Correspondent Jon Frankel summed it up like this: "Look at it this way. It's a common-sense issue, right? But for some people, common sense is you don't give guns to kids. In other parts of the country, where it's part of the culture and there's a heritage of having guns, they think it's just as natural to introduce their kids to guns at age 4, 5 and 6 as it is for somebody else to take their kid out to Little League."

Here's a clip from the show:

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Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson captured America's heart Sunday night in the emphatic Seattle victory over the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII played at the Meadowlands. Linebacker Malcolm Smith was given the MVP award and an automobile, and the collective defense that smothered Peyton Manning could well have won the award.

Hardcore football fans may know the defensive names, but the quarterback position is most identifiable by millions of casual fans. Wilson was charming and accessible in the post game interview and endorsers will be flocking to him in the weeks to come.

The Super Bowl has become the premiere marketing event in America. Thousands of print and electronic reporters encamped in New York last week. They filed story after story. A player like Wilson who interviewed well during the week and performed dramatically during the game has the ability to transcend the narrow genre of hardcore sports fans and become a household name.

A celebrity-making machine has developed in this country, which takes a few athletes and has them do Letterman, Fallon, Kelly and Michael and dozens of television interviews. Magazines and newspapers and websites add to propel an interesting personality into homes across America. There is an obsession with interesting and glamorous people.

Businesses look to take personalities with a high Q factor -- people who have high positive name recognition --and transfer this favorable factor to commercial products. I used to take the players most likely to break through in the Super Bowl and make companies aware of them weeks before the game. That way the player is already on the radar of advertisers who can move quickly to capitalize on the excitement.

My client quarterback Troy Aikman of the Dallas Cowboys was named MVP of the 1993 Super Bowl against Buffalo. He walked on the field recognized as a very good quarterback -- when he walked off the field he immediately morphed into Troy Aikman, American Hero. He is still doing endorsements 20 years later.

49ers quarterback Steve Young entered the 1994 game against San Diego as a very good quarterback in the shadow of legend Joe Montana. Six touchdown passes and MVP status later he was Steve Young, Superstar. He is still doing endorsements twenty years later. The impact can be that long lasting.

Russell Wilson has an inspiring story. At 5-10 he was considered too short to play the position of quarterback and faced rejection. He starred in college but was not drafted by the Seahawks until the third round. His father told him to ask himself, "Why not you?" when it came to success. We all can relate to his story and Wilson's life will change forever.

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In the sports vernacular, perhaps the "cherry on the sundae" cliche should be replaced with "confetti on the field" for those championship moments. Here is how it unfolded for the Seahawks shortly after they smacked the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII at the Meadowlands:

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Jay Glazer wears plenty of hats: NFL insider for Fox Sports. MMA trainer to NFL stars. Commercial spokesman for Subway sandwiches. So how does Glazer characterize himself? In a profile written by Drew Magary for the February issue of GQ magazine, Glazer sheds some light on his unorthodox and often profane but highly successful style.

"I'm an information broker," Glazer tells GQ. “People call me about players. Players call me about coaches: I’m a free agent -- do I want to work with this guy or this guy? Every locker room talks."

Connecting with people is a key part of how Glazer is able to deliver notable scoops on a regular basis. During this past NFL season, Glazer secured an interview with Dolphins lineman Richie Incognito, who had been suspended with the bullying situation with teammate Jonathan Martin. Magary writes, "... and weeks after the fact he still bristles at the accusation -- levied by lots of sports reporters at the time -- that he was soft on Incognito because they were friends."

The story continues ...

"I was ... right down the pipeline. Could’ve asked him a thousand times: He’s not going to admit he’s a racist.”

Did you think he was a racist?

"He’s an idiot."

Do you like Incognito?

“Yeah.”

But he’s an idiot. Why do you like him?

"I have a love for idiots. He’s a meathead, you know what I mean? I love everybody."

But it's not always easy. The story reveals an incident from the 2007 Pro Bowl after Peyton Manning made a lighthearted wisecrack to Glazer about the divorce of Michael Strahan, one of Glazer's best friends. In retrospect, Glazer says he didn't react properly by unloading with an expletive-laden rant.

"But here’s the kicker," Magary writes. "According to Glazer, he and Manning are totally cool now. Bros. This happens a lot in Glazer’s orbit. Glazer almost always mends his fences -- though not without a very real moment of tension first."

For the complete GQ profile of Jay Glazer, written by Drew Magary, go to GQ.com.

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Seattle Seahawk cornerback Richard Sherman twerked his way into national consciousness last Sunday night and made himself a household name. In a brilliant marketing maneuver, he understood the colossal ratings for a NFC Championship game would provide a stage for some unique activity.

With his post-game rant in an interview with Erin Andrews, he emulated Miley Cyrus's attention grabbing tactics. Much of the public was offended by Cyrus but it made her a worldwide star and jumpstarted her career.

Sherman's blast had the same divisive response, but it is all anyone is talking about.

I just returned from five days in New York on a book tour promoting The Agent. Even in the midst of the Polar Vortex, an electric jolt of 8-degree temperatures with fierce wind and snow, which is a shock to the system of a Californian, I did extensive interviews. In some 80 talk radio appearances, television, and print, there was one constant refrain "What did you think of Richard Sherman's antics?"

The last football player to have this sense of timing and center stage was Deion Sanders, who had an uncanny ability to find the right forum at the right time to put himself center-stage.

On Sunday, the largest star-building opportunity America offers will descend on New York City for Super Bowl week. Print and electronic media from across the country and around the world will be focused on the contestants in the Feb. 2 game. Those players who interview well and play dramatically have an opportunity to be put into our "celebrity-making machine." They can transcend the narrow genre of hardcore sports fans and become crossover national names.

When my client Troy Aikman approached his first Super Bowl in 1993, he was perceived to be an excellent quarterback with high name recognition in Dallas and Southern California. After a week of interviews and a MVP performance in the game, he emerged as "Troy Aikman, American Hero."

Endless media pieces are centered around the concept of interesting celebrities. Leno and Letterman and "People" and "Kelly and Michael" cross an athlete out of sports profile into national prominence. The Denver-Seattle contest will center on whether Seattle's defense can slow down Denver's pass-happy offense. Richard Sherman, a cornerback in the line of fire, will be a constant focus in game coverage.

I have spent 40 years promoting the concept of athletes as role models triggering imitative behavior. I would not be thrilled if one of my clients personalized a team victory and drew attention away from his teammates. But there always has been a huge market for the anti-hero and the rebel. Richard Sherman is an intelligent Stanford graduate. He waited for the opportunity to grab center stage and from a straight marketing perspective -- he was brilliant.

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Veteran sports journalist Frank Deford was chairman of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in the late 80s when he first met Boomer Esiason, who had just led the Bengals to a Super Bowl appearance.

A few years later, shortly after being traded to the Jets, Esiason learned that his son, Gunnar, had cystic fibrosis. Deford, who had lost his daughter to cystic fibrosis, was the second person that Esiason called after getting the news.

HBO's Real Sports takes a look at this special relationship in its latest episode. It premiered Tuesday night, but there will be encore presentations through the first week of February. Here's a preview:

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Three worthy baseball veterans were admitted to the Hall of Fame on Wednesday. The voters were right to honor their achievements. Pitcher Roger Clemens and outfielder Barry Bonds did not receive enough votes. Clearly, their alleged use of steroids caused writers not to vote for them. This is as it should be.

Clearly both Clemens and Bonds have Hall of Fame statistics and performance.

Clemens was the dominant pitcher in baseball for most of his 24-year career, with 354 victories and a 3.21 ERA in the American League. Bonds played 25 years and set the single-season home run record in 2001 with 73 and the career home run record with 762. His batting average in his years with the Giants was .312.

Sending them into the Hall of Fame is simply not fair. Many players trained their bodies the natural way and refused to use steroids. They were not competing on a level playing field. If steroid use provided extra strength that put 20 more feet into a fly ball, it could have been the difference between a long out and a home run. If steroid use allowed a pitcher more velocity on the ball, it made it easier to retire batters.

Comparing the statistics of steroid-enhanced players to non-steroid users is apples and oranges. Experts may argue about whether steroids demonstrably enhanced performance -- but clearly players believed they did, or they would not have used them.

There are also long term health implications to prolonged steroid use. Baseball players seemed to have used more sophisticated drugs at lower levels than football players did in the 80's and early 90's. Football players exhibited many symptoms of unintended consequences even while they were playing. As the generation of steroid-using baseball players age, they will be lucky to avoid health issues. Artificially elevating growth and cell reproduction in the body risks the development of cancer.

Teenagers idolize their baseball heroes and want to emulate them. Steroid and supplement use in athletic and weight lifting adolescents is a temptation. Condoning the use of steroids by honoring the achievements of their users sends a dangerous message to young people and the public at large. It is wrong to unfairly accuse athletes of steroid use and damage innocent players with innuendo and doubt. When baseball finds with a certainty that star players used steroids, those players have no place in baseball's Hall of Fame.

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From the 2002 Tuck Rule game to the 1967 Ice Bowl, some of the NFL's classic playoff moments have come amid heapings of snow or simple bitterly cold weather.

When the San Francisco 49ers visit the Green Bay Packers on Sunday for an NFC wild card matchup, it may end up being the coldest playoff game in league history. Weather forecasts have projected lows reaching minus-20 degrees with potential wind chills all the way to minus-50 . The wind chill temperature at the Ice Bowl, which also took place in Green Bay, dropped to -48 degrees at its lowest point.

A report by the Michigan Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness, Health and Sports recommended that at wind chill below minus-50 degrees, all outdoor athletic activity be canceled. But the duel between Aaron Rodgers and Colin Kaepernick and two Super Bowl hopefuls will go on.

The battle of noted quarterbacks may actually be very limited due to strategic changes made for cold-weather games, when teams often run the ball more often. Five-time Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore will likely have his number called frequently, as will rookie counterpart Eddie Lacy of the Packers. The mobility of Kaepernick, who ran for 181 yards in last year’s playoff win against Green Bay, may give him an edge on Super Bowl XLV MVP Rodgers, who is a good runner but also just returning from broken collarbone.

All players will face a heightened possibility of injury in the extreme climate, according to Matthew Matava, the St. Louis Rams' head team physician and president of the NFL Physicians’ Society.

"Those players who only have to play very few times throughout the game or those players who have to do a lot of running up and down the field -- special teams come to mind -- they're the ones I’d be most concerned about,” Matava said. "Because if you have a receiver or running back who’s running up and down the field every play while they’re on offense, they’re going to maintain their flexibility and their body warmth … Whereas if you're, let's say, only coming in on special teams in punt or kickoff, just bursting down the field after having been idle for 15 to 20 minutes or so, and now you’re expecting your muscles to fire at maximum capacity."

Pass-catching players such as wide receivers, tight ends and defensive backs are at increased risk of fracturing bones in their hands. Some players wear surgical gloves under their normal receiving gloves in extreme climates.

"Your reaction time neurologically is decreased in real cold weather,” Matava said.

Even seemingly simple plays like the exchange of the football between center and quarterback could cause injuries because of slower joint movement. Training staffs must also be particularly cautious for players with asthma, Matava said, and will keep inhalers on the sidelines.

The NFL does not issue specific guidelines for cold-weather games beyond standard medical practice, according to Matava. Fortunately, the players are better equipped now to handle the blistering cold than they have been in the past.

"The players nowadays, unlike in the original Ice Bowl, have so much better materials with which to play," Matava said. "They'l be layered with modern technology in terms of the fibers that the clothes are made of."

They also have the benefit of bench heaters and the recognizable space heaters on the sidelines, which get so hot that they are flammable. As the Rams’ physician, Matava spends half of his game-time in the climate-controlled confines of the Edward jones Dome. But for a 2004 Monday Night Football Game in Green Bay, Matava watched from the sidelines as St. Louis played in freezing temperatures.

“I actually had my pants start to smoke one time because of [the space heater],” he said.

Instead of the usual water and Gatorade, players will have the option of drinking chicken broth on the sideline, which serves the dual purpose of hydration and replenishment of body nutrients with salt.

Meanwhile, the Packers can play off their experience in the cold—although not quite this degree of cold—for a psychological advantage.

“Don’t be surprised if you see a player or two on the line not have anything on as far as covering their sleeves go just sort of to show how tough they are compared to the players across the line of scrimmage,” Matava said.

Yet Packers tight end Ryan Taylor told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that he will not partake in that sort of intimidation tactic.

"I don't really subscribe to 'the less clothes I have on the tougher I am,'" Taylor said. "The guys who think they're the toughest guys in the world go out wearing no sleeves. It doesn't make any sense. Being cold doesn't make you tough. It makes you stupid."

Matava did not know of any studies that have been conducted to see if players from warm-weather climates like San Francisco would face a higher risk of injury in the cold than their Packers’ counterparts.

“The only problem you would have in doing a research study like that is that would take many, many games by many, many teams to show any kind of statistical differences,” Matava said, despite acknowledging that the theory could hold some weight. “Then you have to decide how much experience in cold weather really matters. Because let’s say a player plays on the 49ers in this year's game, but he played for the Packers five years.”

The millions of fans watching in comfort in front of their television sets may be most concerned about the players, but fans, coaching staffs and team personnel must endure the bone-chilling temperatures while mostly idle. Even those famously loyal and blizzard-tested Packers' Cheeseheads appeared frightened by the forecasts -- it took until Friday to sell out tickets at Lambeau Field.

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