Every year at this time the casualty reports from NFL training camps are filled with carnage. So far this year, TE Dennis Pitta, WR Jeremy Maclin, CB Aaron Berry, WR Armon Binns and C Dan Koppen are done for the year before a preseason snap is taken. Playoff chances are dramatically altered as one player after another suffers a season ending or hampering injury in early practices.

What is occurring in the first weeks of training camp that seems to precipitate such serious injuries? There is a dramatic difference between coming into camp "in shape" and being "in football shape" and the first sustained contact puts extra stress on player’s bodies.

Not so long ago training camps were used to whip out of shape players into playing form in the sweltering heat of college campuses across the country. In the long off-season players would stop training, revert to old eating patterns, lose stamina and gain weight. No longer.

The competitive pressure and off-season conditioning programs that teams hold force players to a standard of fitness year round. They work with private trainers on nutrition and weight training. Teams are allowed to have "voluntary" four day a week off-season workout programs for nine weeks. They may be voluntary in the Collective Bargaining Agreement but woe to the player who defies his coach’s wishes that he participated.

For the safety of payers, new rules were negotiated in the 2011 NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement that eliminated almost all off-season contact drills. There are new limitations on the amount of padded contact during training camp and the season. This is so players do not leave their best play on the practice field and unnecessarily incur injury risk. The effect is to send players into training camp who have not been hit in seven months.

When a group of incredibly fast, unbelievably large and strong athletes come together and have had none of the jarring impact that takes a toll on every joint in the human body for months and then dramatically does contact practices with fresh bodies -- it puts shock and trauma on the body it is not prepared for. Inevitably, serious injuries occur. Perhaps the NFL teams can design a better transition period to ramp up more slowly. Until then, the casualties will continue to pile up.

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When NFL linebacker O'Brien Schofield was a student-athlete at Wisconsin, he ran into a problem toward the end of every month: His stipend was running out and the rules surrounding training table food were strict.

After all, without a ton of help from his parents, Schofield had more than a few bills to pay: A cell phone. Rent. Gas money. Groceries. And of course the myriad of other things that pop up on the must-have list in college.

So, with many of his teammates, he would pool together change from his car or around his room to try to afford a meal off the dollar menu at McDonald's.

"There were times," said Schofield, who just signed with the Seahawks, "when you were just in survival mode."

Support for the lawsuit that former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon filed against the NCAA and EA Sports for using his likeness without compensation has heated up this year. College players and coaches are coming out in droves to emphasize the premise of O'Bannon's case. As Texas coach Mack Brown said at Big 12 media days: "These players are killing themselves and at Texas last year we made $163 million."

The argument against paying players is that they receive scholarships -- often valued at tens of thousands of dollars plus stipends -- which are more than their free market value is worth. Or that paying certain players would take away most schools' abilities to compete.

But contrary to the stereotypes of playing college football, often glorified in the movies, interviews on media days this year paint a much bleaker picture in the life as a player when you don’t accept illicit benefits or have a family that can send extra money when the stipend runs out.

"We got $1,100 a month,” Schofield said of his time at Wisconsin. “You pay rent at $650, you pay your cell phone bill and if you have a car up there you have to pay for parking. How do you pay for your bills and groceries?"

Players at the end of the semester would pull their money together to buy as much cheap food as they could to split. And players whose parents provided them with more extra spending money, or had some leftover from summer jobs -- NCAA bans in-season work -- would cook larger meals for their teammates.

In recent years, it's gotten better, he said, after Wisconsin went to three consecutive Rose Bowl games and boosted its ranking. “It’s a lot different now,” he said. “They have meal plans now and I’m happy for those guys because when we were there it wasn’t like that.”

It's still not exactly paradise, one current Badgers' player told the Omaha World-Herald.

“There's absolutely a disconnect when administrators and people are making a lot of money and players' families can't come to the games,” current Wisconsin player Chris Borland told the newspaper. “There are guys eating PB and J and Ramen noodles more than they should based off of what they contribute.”

There still are many schools in Division I without similar meal plans in place, something Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez addressed earlier this week. “They should pass the rule tomorrow that you can feed all your athletes,” he said, according to Sports Illustrated writer Pete Thamel. “Three meals a day all year round."

It's a simple and perhaps almost scary thought that student-athletes aren’t getting at least the same three meals a day that most students do. The stereotypes of football players getting free food wherever they go from admiring fans, Schofield said for most schools, it happened far less often than anyone thought. “There’s a party that's going to have food?” he said. "Oh you’ll be there. You never turn down free food. Any (school-sponsored) multi-cultural event you’d see a lot of athletes there because of the free food.”

Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, a supporter of the NCAA paying athletes, told reporters at Big Ten Media Days he was frustrated with making the NCAA hundreds of millions without much help for emergencies -- like earlier this year when his car was hit in a hit-and-run accident, according to the World-Herald.

"Where am I going to get that money?” he said.

Colter, according to his coach Pat Fitzgerald, is better off than many players. "The stipend at our place is a heck of a lot more than it is at other schools because of the cost-of-living adjustment," Fitzgerald told reporters, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. "And I’m not going to lie to you -- I use that like you have no idea in recruiting."

Even if athletes can get their basic needs met, the idea of a social life of free drinks at any bar you're recognized is also far from true at most schools, said Schoenfeld.

As is the idea of throwing away money for what many college students have: Video games, movie tickets, etc. In an ironic twist on the O'Bannon lawsuit, when it came to the soon-to-be-renamed EA Sports college football game was that some players would have to pool their money together to buy it.

"I wanna buy the new NCAA game but I also don't wanna be poor till September... My likeness is on the game why do I have to pay for it?” Missouri defensive tackle Lucas Vincent wrote last month on Twitter.

Schofield said during his time in college he and his teammates would also pool together money to buy the game and quickly match up what they believed their uniform and number to see where they measured up.

"You definitely want to see where you’re ranked,” Schofield said. “That was everything."

Even if shelling out the money to get it meant another hurdle against paying for dinner later that night.

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The agreement by Milwaukee Brewer and former National League Most Valuable Player Ryan Braun to a negotiated penalty of a 65-game suspension for violation of the steroid policy is discouraging at many levels. It seemed only yesterday that Braun stood in front of cameras and promised the public and his fans that he was completely innocent of such charges and it was all a miscarriage of justice.

He followed in the footsteps of such iconic figures as Tour de France champion cyclist Lance Armstrong and Olympic sprinter Marion Jones who vehemently and repeatedly denied that they had used performance enhancing substances. This continues the pattern of shattering public trust in the credibility of athletes. Young people look to them as role models and they have been exposed as liars.

They have also been exposed as cheaters. Steroids alter the evenness of the playing field and give the violators an unfair advantage in enhanced performance. It brings into question all individual and team accomplishments. Baseball was arguably complicit in this process in the aftermath of the 1994 strike. Attendance had dropped precipitously as had television viewership, sponsorship and memorabilia sales in the wake of fan resentment of the specter of millionaires fighting billionaires leading to the cancellation of games.

What brought MLB back was the home run race frenzy generated by the competition between St. Louis first baseman Mark McGwire and Chicago outfielder Sammy Sosa who both were allegedly helped by use of banned substances. As power levels and offense surged throughout baseball, it brought fans back. Barry Bonds' pursuit of the record further stimulated excitement. Arguably this era saved baseball. And who among ownership, management, coaches, trainers, players and agents did not know what was happening?

In January 2004, MLB announced a new drug policy which included random, offseason testing and 10-day suspension for first use, 30 days for second, 60 days for third time offenders and one year for fourth timers, all without pay. The next year they stiffened the penalties -- 50 games for first offense, 100 for second and lifetime ban for third. There have been 35 total suspensions and four repeat offenders. A new outbreak of use has been exposed from Tony Bosch's Biogenesis program in Miami that lists Braun and players like A Rod and many others.

This use sends a destructive message to every young athlete trying to get bigger, stronger and faster at the high school level. It also impacts the weightlifting non-athlete culture that exists on many campuses. If that is what gifted athletes use, and it works, it stimulates a younger generation.

What I learned in the years of steroid use in the NFL is that steroids have a devastating effect on the emotional and physical health of users. Aside from damage to organs and potential cancers, they create an emotional roller coaster. Athletes move from hyper-aggression "roid rage" to depression. Athletes coming off repeated cycles have killed themselves because of this mood altering effect. Deceased 49er coach Bill Walsh, Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon and I testified before the State Assembly and Senate in California a while back urging education and legislation to address the problem at the high school level.

Major League Baseball needs to renew its diligence in monitoring use to remove this scourge.

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It was once referred to as "The Sport of Kings" and transfixed the nation. When Seabiscuit made his heroic run, it was front-page news and people gathered by radios in every front room and work place to follow his progress. The sport of racing has lost that exalted position. There has been an exponential explosion in alternative methods of wagering money and hundreds of media outlets showing other athletic competitions, highlights and analysis that have overshadowed racing. Live attendance is dramatically diminished, the betting handles have dwindled and the races are harder to find on major television outlets.

Here's a plan to resurrect horse racing from its current moribund status. It's a project I have worked on in the past. Originally the brainchild of former New York Jet and later a jockey agent, RJ Kors, with much collaboration, it is a National Jockey League. It envisions a partnership between track owners, racehorse owners and trainers, and the jockeys themselves for the best interests of the sport.

The jockeys are the most anonymous major sport athletes. They live difficult lives of danger and obsession with their weight. By using the same star building and branding techniques used with athletes in other sports they can become marketable figures. The horse, with the possible exception of "Mr. Ed" cannot speak and do not have endless career spans, the jockeys do. Language barriers can be overcome by media training.

A racing schedule is created that highlights certain selected races that will constitute a season. Five team captains are selected and they draft nine jockeys per team that will engage in a season long competition. Each team will be sponsored by a different corporate sponsor. There is a mutual agreement to use the silks for tasteful advertising.

It creates endless branding and product opportunities at the tracks themselves and product that will interest the public. The venues can create more revenue. The jockeys are representing by a Guild, which can use the proceeds for their benefit. Individual jockeys will have their own opportunities.

The league will generate media content--highlight, analysis and other features enabling fans to follow on television, radio, the internet and every other platform of content supply. The opportunities for betting are extraordinary, with team results as well as individual results providing a huge weekly handle with the opportunity for a national pool.

As fans are brought back into the sport through the competitive excitement and identifiable personalities they will rediscover the power and majesty of watching thoroughbreds and the excitement of the racing experience. There has always been an incredible attraction between horses and a younger generation, especially girls. It needs to be nurtured.

For horse racing to flourish it needs an infusion of excitement and modern marketing and exposure that the League can provide. "They're off and running ...

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I sit writing looking out the office window at the Newport Beach Bay with paddleboarders, canoers, kayakers and boaters floating by, enjoying the sun and water. But I have sat chained at this desk for the past two weeks studying for the upcoming National Football Players Association Certification Test held this Friday in Washington D.C. Dramatic changes were made in the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement with the NFL, and the NFLPA wants to insure that the agents that players entrust to handle their affairs are conversant with the rules.

To represent a player for contract negotiations in a team sport, an agent must first be certified by the sport's union. The players' union takes the position that under National Labor Relations Board Law they are the sole bargainer for "wages, terms and hours" for their members. Not only do they negotiate the Collective Bargaining Agreement that sets the rules and conditions that all players perform under, they assert the right to negotiate individual player contracts. Because of the tradition in sports and entertainment of having individual agents for the talent, the players' associations deed out that right under their administration as long as the agent is certified. Their goal is to protect players from unscrupulous agents.

Certification starts with an application that heavily scrutinizes the education and background of the applicant. The NFLPA requires an undergraduate college degree and a postgraduate degree in law or business. If someone can show seven years of practical negotiating experience, they can also qualify without postgraduate education. Any legal violations or professional discipline, especially involving dishonesty or fraud are evaluated. Being rejected by any of the associations is grounds for rejection by another. The application can be rejected at this point. There is a right of appeal.

A fee accompanies an application and is paid yearly by the agent to the union. Certain unions like the NFLPA require that the agents secure a bond to insure their behavior. The unions hold yearly seminars in which they discuss economic developments, changes in the CBA, salary and contract information, drug and steroid policies, financial planning and other relevant topics. The NFLPA requires attendance every year. The NFLPA holds one session on the West Coast, another on the East Coast, one at the Indianapolis rookie combine and occasionally qualifies attendance at the Sports Lawyers Association.

Each union has a code of conduct for agents, which regulates maximum fees, recruiting behavior, fiduciary responsibilities, conflicts of interest and the duty of the agent to actually sign the bottom of the player contract insuring that it is the whole and entire agreement. Agents who violate these rules can be brought before disciplinary committees that can levy a wide range of penalties ranging from fines to total suspension.

This is dramatically different than when I started in 1975, it was the "Wild Wild West." Anyone with a card could be an agent notwithstanding their lack of education or training. They could charge players any fee they would agree to. They could have "runners" recruiting on campus, and a series of backdoor ways to get paid by third parties. Now between the unions, state laws and campus regulators -- the field is clearly more regulated.

The unions handle fee disputes between an agent and a player or between two agents; it is all subject to binding arbitration. Agents are now required to obey the CBA and salary cap requirements. They have to submit written Standard Representation Agreements with each client, designed by the union to protect players. They have to disclose every relationship with a financial planner or other agent. They have to open their books and submit statements of fees.

Friday the newest class of aspiring football agents will be striving to pass a test and qualify to begin their representation careers. And one forty-year veteran will be required to show he still has the right stuff.

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Keith Olbermann and ESPN are giving it another try.

The controversial sportscaster turned political pundit turned sportscaster again is heading back to the network that made him and his temper legendary for a new nightly show to run on ESPN2. It will go up against against SportsCenter, the network confirmed Wednesday, ending long-running rumors that Olbermann was heading back to ESPN.

“(I’m) grateful for the chance not only to work on necessary viewing for sports fans but the chance to put a different ending on the story for ESPN,” he said in a conference call with reporters. “We are indelibly intertwined and I know we can't go back and undo everything that went on 20 years ago but I would like to do my best to correct as much of it as I can.”

If the show, named "Olbermann" and scheduled to run at 11 p.m. ET on weeknights, is successful both in ratings and critically, it will end what has been one of the longest public apology tours in perhaps U.S. history. His first tour of the network, which ended in 1997, has been a legend captured in books and stories about ESPN, many unflattering to him.

After Mike Freeman’s book "ESPN: The Uncensored History" came out in 2001, full of tales of Olbermann’s temper, he issued one of his first major apologies, writing a column for Salon.com titled "ESPN: Mea Culpa" to explain the pressure he said he felt to make the network succeed.

"I now read with horror of my ESPN2 co-host, Ms. Kolber, sequestering herself in the women's bathroom and weeping over how I treated her," he wrote. "She told Freeman that as things deteriorated, I wouldn’t talk to her. She's wrong: I couldn’t talk to her. I pumped up some small-scale complaints into a scenario in which she was at fault for everything ESPN2 hadn't become. I wasn't completely obtuse back then, and if anything would have cut through my neuroses, it would've been a colleague’s tears. If I had known, I think I could've jumped over the fence I'd built around myself and said what the inner guy always knew: No TV show is worth crying over. Suzy: I'm sorry.”

Olbermann's behavior, since his time at ESPN (he has worked on ESPN radio shows since his 1997 departure), has not always been the most positively portrayed. He was fired from Fox Sports, left a bitter taste at MSNBC when he left that network, and had a similar meltdown with Al Gore's Current TV, where he was hired to be a left-leaning and big name host meant to propel the network forward.

As to whether this time will be different or not, ESPN President John Skipper told reporters he was confident the two had ironed out whatever issues might result in a similar blowup this time at ESPN.

"We don't ultimately have to work through anything except my having some discussions and being sensitive to some of the previous issues,” Skipper said.

Olbermann, for his part, expressed his excitement in getting the chance to prove to everyone at ESPN what the network meant to him.

The show, Skipper and Olbermann said, will be a blend of discussions, interviews and highlights that Olbermann said may "be evocative of what I've done in the past."

Perhaps what’s most different this time around is that the same pressure isn't there. The network, unlike Current TV, to some aspects MSNBC and even ESPN during the early years, is bigger than Olbermann. Olbermann himself has already solidified his reputation as a bit of a ticking time bomb whose goodwill toward his employer can expire with a moment's notice. But those moments, in Olbermann's history, seem to most happen when he feels under an enormous amount of pressure.

"Several ESPN folks suggested to Freeman that I was trying deliberately to violate the rules -- appearing on other networks and writing for publications without notifying them just to tweak management,” he wrote in 2002. "That was almost right on the money. But it wasn't as simple as merely trying to annoy ESPN or John Walsh or whoever else. It was me trying to give myself an excuse to get out from under the pressure of working in an environment of my own creation in which I daily expected the blame ax to fall. It was prepackaged sour grapes.”

Regardless of his off-camera issues, James Miller, who wrote "These Guys Have All The Fun: Inside The World Of ESPN", points out Olbermann was always an incredible talent who "was part of one of the most significant SportsCenter pairings in the company history." Often, Miller, pointed out, Olbermann was bringing up issues that many people agreed with him on.

"If you were someone watching television and there wasn't any talk of it or my book hadn't been done, you would have no reason to think (anything about Olbermann) other than this guy was really good at what he did ... " he said. "It (just) wasn't fun sometimes for the producers and management."

A year away from the anchor's desk, Miller believes, could have made a huge difference in Olbermann's future at the network.

"I think that Keith, based on what he’s said today in the conference call and the statement (released by the network) suggests that the last year have been a reflective year for him and I think he misses being on the air," Miller said. "So one might say that you know this was kind of a significant time in his life and he said he wasn't going to waste it. I think he’s walking into this in a different way than he's walked into other things in the past."

His promises, Miller said, hasn't quite made all the difference for many ESPN employees who he said have expressed concern about the return of Olbermann.

"I've heard from many staffers -- it's interesting that there is certainly those who remember the mid-90s and not in a positive way and so they’re highly skeptical and there’s people who weren’t around then and are kind of excited because they’re getting a big name personality for an important time slot so as someone said to me, 'how can this not help us?'" he said. "Bristol is a tale of two cities right now."

For Olbermann, the difference may be that he's older, or maybe wiser, or maybe burned through too many bridges to continue to have a career. But it’s also that no matter what happens with this show – whether it’s a success or a failure, ESPN has grown into a corporation massive enough to continue on without much of a mark. Their mission, which in addition to building up better late night programming, is bringing the publicity heading towards Fox’s new sports network back to them, can go on with Olbermann or without him. For the network, the latter part of those objectives, is already accomplished.

And for Olbermann, who always seems happier when talking about his beloved baseball, few will blink an eye if it doesn't work out.

Which almost makes it much more likely that it will.

"I'm overwhelmed by the chance to begin anew with ESPN," he said in a statement released after the announcement. "I've been gone for 16 years and not one day in that time has passed without someone connecting me to the network. Our histories are indelibly intertwined and frankly I have long wished that I had the chance to make sure the totality of that story would be a completely positive one. I'm grateful to friends and bosses -- old and new -- who have permitted that opportunity to come to pass.

"I'm not going to waste it."


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A flood of negative stories regarding athletic behavior has filled all media outlets recently. The case of accused murderer, NFL star tight end, Aaron Hernandez has triggered a nationwide discussion. There are two dangers to address:

1) The system for preventing and regulating these incidents.

2) The danger that the public will generalize these stories as reflective of overall athletic behavior and become disenchanted and disillusioned with sport.

I have spent the past 40 years promoting the concept of athletes being role models. They are brought into living rooms as larger than life heroes. They clearly have the ability to permeate the perceptual screen that young people erect to tune out authority figures to trigger good values and imitative behavior.

Heavyweight boxing champion Lennox Lewis delivering a public service announcement that says, "Real Men Don't Hit Women" did more to change rebellious adolescents attitude toward domestic violence than 1,000 authority figures could.

49er quarterback Steve Young and middleweight boxing champion Oscar De La Hoya teaming up for a "Prejudice is Foul Play" public service campaign, influenced what young people think is important to be a champion.

We ask our clients to retrace their roots to the high school, collegiate and professional communities and design scholarship funds and foundations that enrich the quality of life and target specific ills. Players throughout the world of sport do this every day with marginal media exposure. If athletes become connected with misconduct it sends a dangerous message to young people.

Continual monitoring of the systems that screen potential problem behavior prior to entry into pro sports and prevention safeguards needs to occur. There is rigorous testing and background checks that teams employ prior to a player being drafted. All professional leagues and players' associations have multiple day awareness programs that focus every potential pro on problem areas and how to prevent them. Franchises have ample psychological and counseling resources to help athletes who are troubled. Each league has substance abuse programs. Diligence is needed to predict and prevent troubling behavior.

Some perspective is needed before the public assumes that athletic behavior has degenerated compared to the pristine and pure days of sport they remember. The 27 cases of NFL players arrested since the 2013 draft are 27 too many and need to be addressed and prevented. Still, the exponential expansion of media outlets and the tabloidization of news contribute to an inaccurate picture. The number of high school, college and professional athletes is huge and most of them lead disciplined wholesome lives. This attracts little media attention, but every aberrational behavior or incident is now reported through every form of media.

The repetitive news cycle means that news of a negative incident is repeated over and over again. Someone may read or watch dozens of reports of one incident and it has the effect of amplifying the behavior. After we watched the Rodney King tape hundreds of times it conveys the image that the LAPD didn't have one ugly incident with a few officers -- they beat up defenseless blacks every day all day long.

The press covered up personal misbehavior of athletes for years. Domestic violence and drunk driving were not considered suitable matters for public consumption in the same way the public knew nothing of JFK's dalliances. The redefinition of news as heavily consisting of reporting on celebrities changed all this. Every athlete, coach, sportscaster and executive is grist for the "jurisprudence wire."

These incidents are not representative of the world of sports. The average athlete is acutely aware of the financial, branding and legal consequences of this behavior. Do not become disillusioned with contemporary athletes -- they still represent the best qualities of self-discipline, talent and courage, which are examples to us all.

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Because MLB's All-Star game is at Citi Field this year, the New York Mets have gotten to take the lead in the festivities, including watching franchise legends Mookie Wilson and Edgardo Alfonzo manage opposing teams in the Futures' Game. "We'll see what's going to happen and what kind of talent we have and think about what Bobby Valentine has taught me," Alfonzo said.

But as for trash talking, Alfonzo said the two haven't taken even playful shots at each other. Just the opposite, in fact.

"Sunday it’s a great opportunity, a great honor for me to be named the manager of the World Team, to hang out with the young guys," he said. "I think its going to be great. The only thing I don't like is going against my teammate."

Wilson and Alfonzo are also taking part in many of the FanFest activities, including helping out with T-Mobile sponsored clinics at FanFest where they'll be helping kids play baseball on a pretty real-looking field in the middle of a convention center in Manhattan.

As for what the Mets have to do to be relevant past the All-Star game, Alfonzo said it's a pretty simple solution: Win.

"They're trying to build a team," he said. "They’ve been doing that a couple of years little by little, it's not going to take to long to do it -- the main thing is they have a pitching staff they can be building around them."

He, however, has no plans to come back to help out. At least as a player.

As a coach, however? That, he said, is another story.

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While many Yankees fans are focused on the Alex Rodriguez PED rumors, another Yankee superstar in the minors has kept a low profile. Derek Jeter returned from a broken ankle suffered in last year's ALCS this week for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (AAA) and went 1-9 at the plate.

Jeter was slotted to play designated hitter for the RailRiders on Thursday, but with Travis Hafner and Brett Gardner going down with injuries on the big league club, the Bombers called Jeter's number. The Yankees' captain rejoined the team for their afternoon game with the Royals.

In his first at-bat, Jeter had an infield single down the third base line and scored a run on Vernon Wells' sacrifice fly. He received a standing ovation from the crowd upon coming up to the plate as the designated hitter.

Before the game, a handful of Yankees expressed their feelings on Jeter's return to ThePostGame at the Yankees' HOPE Week event: Birthday Wishes.

"It's great. Having our captain back is great," said Mariano Rivera. "It's always good when you have your captain back. He's asked to be with the lineup and the team."

"Hopefully he goes four for four with four RBIs and we get a win," Chris Stewart added. "It's just good to have him back out there. I'm sure there's going to be little butterflies kind of going. It's been awhile and he hasn't really been out there. Hopefully we solidify the shortstop position. We've definitely missed him out there. It's been kind of weird seeing that one hole not with Jeter's name there."

-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.

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As the saga over the Aaron Hernandez murder charges continue, many have looked back at a letter he wrote -- some have suggested it was on the advice of his agent -- before being drafted. In the letter, Hernandez acknowledged mistakes he'd made in the past with recreational drugs and promised to somehow pay back the organization if he fails any tests.

While in retrospect the letter may seem incredibly telling and disingenuous, agents and a former NFL team executive say that it is a relatively common practice among potential draftees facing a bit of mud on their profiles.

How helpful letters like that are, however, varies.

"My feelings on it generally were it was an attempt by an agent to get the player to come clean especially when the question may have been circling in the war rooms," said Ted Sundquist, former general manager of the Denver Broncos. "And that (letter) was the only way the agent felt like he could reach the decision makers."

Perhaps the most successful case was Luis Castillo, the Northwestern defensive end who tested positive for steroids shortly before the 2005 draft. At the suggestion of his agent, Mike McCartney, Castillo wrote a letter that, according to ESPN The Magazine, with his explanations for taking the banned substance (he panicked over an elbow injury) and information about his sparkling academic record.

His follow-up interviews and multiple character testimonies, as well as supporting evidence of his claims that he had only used steroids once also were probably helpful. The Chargers then selected Castillo in the first round.

"The agent can pick the phone up and nine times out of ten, we're on the line going, 'Yeah, OK,'" Sundquist said. "So it's sometimes, I think, a tactic, but it's like, hey, your best chance of clearing this up, whether it's drugs or anger management or anything that plagues prospects coming in, is just to put it in your own words."

Though murder charges are certainly more serious and unpredictable than drug use, many have questioned if the fact Hernandez had to write a letter at all should have been a bigger detriment to his draft status.

One difference with Hernandez's letter was that it went a bit further than many of the normal I-promise-to-stay-out-of-trouble letters, said one agent who declined to be identified.

"He is basically putting his earnings in jeopardy by giving away what may be guaranteed to him," he said. "It is one thing to make such a promise after he has been drafted, but I cannot imagine this practice happens often prior to the draft."

As for how much it actually helped him, Sundquist said based on how far down he went to the Patriots in the fourth round meant it might have just been a risk they were willing to take -- regardless of a heartfelt first-class delivery.

"When you get to the back end of the draft and a player like Hernandez is there and you know you're getting a first- or second-round talent,” he said, "(clubs) will at least talk about it."

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