Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Does the NFL Have a Dipping Problem?October 28, 2015
1. The NFL's "silent plague"
During the Vikings' telecast on Sunday, it was reported that running back Adrian Peterson was ill from swallowing his chewing tobacco. Peterson denied the story and said what really made him ill was some whack seafood.
"I've been dipping for the past 10 years," Peterson told the media after the game. "Swallowing dip? My body's immune to it. That doesn't affect me at all."
Wait...hold on...what? Adrian Peterson has been using dip for a decade? This got me wondering: How much is dip used in the NFL?
The answer: a helluva lot. A whole helluva lot.
It turns out dip isn't just a baseball thing. It's also a football thing. As baseball has moved away from dip—slowly—football players might now use it as much, if not more, than their baseball counterparts.
I asked four active players and one recently retired one what percentage of NFL players dip. The lowest estimate was 40 percent. The highest was 60 percent. (In MLB, the numbers seem to be trending much lower than that.)
The players I spoke to describe an NFL awash in dip. Almost the entire offensive line on nearly every team uses dip, the players said. Many running backs. Most of the defensive line and a number of linebackers.
Equipment managers on teams often make dip runs for players. They bring back bags full of dip and hand it out to players.
One player, who is white, said dip use differs across racial lines and positions. "It's mostly racial," said the player. "White guys dip, only some of the black guys. It's also by position: OL, DL, LB, FB biggest dippers."
What has also mostly gone unnoticed is that players dip while on the sideline all the time. Television cameras either don't see it or choose not to show it, but I'm told dipping happens often during games.
I have to say, in 25 years of covering the sport, I have never heard of dip being this prevalent. I'm not saying it's a big deal, but interestingly the NFL, when it comes to dip, is going in a different direction than baseball. Baseball is trying to eliminate dip use due to cancer concerns.
One NFL coach I spoke to called it "the silent plague."
"I don't think guys using it understand the dangers it presents," the coach explained.
That seems slightly dramatic, but then again, there's a reason why Major League Baseball has tried to ban chewing tobacco altogether. The head of baseball's players' union, Tony Clark, told the Associated Press (via USA Today) that some players quit chewing after Hall of Fame player Tony Gwynn died from oral cancer last year.
Before his death, Gwynn told the San Diego Union-Tribune's Bill Center he believed his years of using dip led to him getting cancer. The Mayo Clinic says chewing tobacco can increase certain cancer risks including "esophageal cancer and various types of oral cancer, including cancers of your mouth, throat, cheek, gums, lips and tongue. You also face an increased risk of pancreatic cancer."
Mayo also says dip is highly addictive—as addictive as cigarettes.
The interesting part of this, from the NFL side, is that players I spoke to said the union and NFL have done little to curb use of chew. "They don't care," said one player on the use of chew.
One factor that might explain some of that: A player explained to me that a higher percentage of coaches chew than players. Why do coaches use? "Probably to help them stay awake," the player said, referring to the long hours the coaches keep.
The NFL is at an interesting crossroads now when it comes to dip. I asked the league for comment on the apparent prevalence of dipping, and in response received a statement explaining that it is against league policy to appear in ads for tobacco products or to use any tobacco product "in the playing field area or while being interviewed on television," which would seem to mean the sideline dipping is against the rules.
Beyond that, it appears the league has no interest in curbing the use of something that potentially increases cancer risk.
We'll see how long that lasts.
2. Before the Cowboys enabled Greg Hardy, there was Jeremiah Ratliff
The way Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is enabling Greg Hardy's childish behavior is, well, pretty disgraceful. Deadspin had it right with its NSFW headline.
But there is another example of a team enabling the behavior of a troubled player and ignoring his issues so it can take advantage of his talent. It is one of the most startling, unbelievable, worrisome examples of player enabling you will ever hear.
By now, you've heard the story of former Bears player Jeremiah Ratliff. He had a heated exchange with Bears officials after being cut and had to be escorted out of the team complex by security.
What you may not know was that something similar happened last year with Ratliff and the Bears. It was a scary and bizarre moment.
In the last week of the season, on a Friday, according to a player who witnessed the entire incident, Ratliff showed up to practice and was behaving belligerently toward players and coaches. The coaching regime, then led by Marc Trestman, would not allow him to practice.
Ratliff went ballistic, this player said, and was asked to leave practice. He departed but later returned. Practice was stopped and most players went off to the side while a small group of players and coaches tried to calm Ratliff down and get him to leave.
It didn't work initially. Ratliff destroyed the game clock on the practice field, smashing it and kicking it. Later, he shoved an assistant coach to the ground. While all of this went on, Trestman never intervened. He just stood off to the side and watched.
And this is the most incredible part. The uber-enabling part. Not only was Ratliff never punished by Trestman...he was named one of the captains the next day. The entire locker room was incredulous.
Trestman justified making Ratliff a captain by saying he brought intensity, but no player bought that. That move, the player said, led to Trestman officially losing the locker room. Trestman was fired soon after.
You can't blame the new coaching staff if, fully aware of what happened with Ratliff last year, they just wanted to get him as far away from the team as possible.
This is the lesson for the Cowboys. You cannot mess around with the players the way Trestman tried to. The players know why Jones is defending Hardy, and it has nothing to do with passion. It's because he's talented, and the players know all of this. They're not dumb.
3. What the hell, Ravens?
I am rarely surprised by anything in the NFL any longer, but I have to say that Baltimore having just one win has stunned me.
What has really been staggering to watch is how poorly coached the Ravens have been. There are talent deficits, to be sure. But under the John Harbaugh regime in the past, you didn't see so many mistakes. Not big mistakes. Not mistakes on basic fundamental stuff. Not on tackling. Not on blocking. Not taking stupid penalties.
No, Harbaugh won't get fired. But that organization needs to make major changes this offseason.
4. Will Arian Foster be in the NFL next year?
The short answer is yes. The real question is where will Foster be?
He signed a five-year contract in 2012, and according to NFLPA records, Foster accounts for $8.7 million against the salary cap this season and $9.3 million next year.
He is coming off serious back surgery last year and a torn Achilles this season. He turns 30 next year, and I don't see the Texans keeping him unless he renegotiates his contract to ease the cap hit. That's definitely possible.
It's more likely the Texans cut him and Foster finishes his career in a place like Washington.
5. Tom Brady blows off Darrelle Revis
I know, I know...some of this is like high school. I usually despise the "this guy hates that guy" stuff.
But this is interesting. After the Patriots beat the Jets, Darrelle Revis approached Tom Brady to shake his hand, and Brady blew him off. Clearly blew him off.
Not a big deal, I know. Not saying it is, but it's just...interesting. These guys were close teammates when together. My guess is Brady didn't appreciate Revis basically saying that he thought Brady cheated.
And that led to the cold handshake.
I'm told by people on Twitter that the team's color analyst said that Revis and Brady did indeed say hi, and that video was their second handshake. Or something like that. Others say Brady did indeed react coldly to Revis.
6. The Colin Kaepernick situation keeps getting messier
CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco reported this week that 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was called out by a teammate during a players-only meeting last month, leading to some tension within the team. The story says all beefs were settled. But on Sunday, Fox's Jay Glazer reported that's not really accurate. There are still some beefy beefs. Glazer said Kaepernick is "on an island" in the 49ers locker room.
So where are we? Both stories are probably true. There was a meeting, but there still may be some hard feelings.
The bottom line remains that the team is at a major crossroads not just with Kaepernick but with the head coach as well. The 49ers could get rid of both after this season.
7. The AFC South is historically putrid
This from the Elias Sports Bureau: For the first time since 1970, a team with a losing record is in first place in its division after seven weeks. That would be the 3-4 Colts, and 1970 would be the NFL-AFL merger. That is a long time.
8. Cold, but funny
Browns fans have a sick sense of humor. Can't blame them.
9. Philip Rivers making history
Philip Rivers threw for 503 yards against the Packers two weeks ago. He threw for 336 against the Raiders last week, the fourth-highest total following a 500-yard performance in NFL history, the league said.
That is an artificial stat, for sure. It means almost nothing except for two things.
First, to throw for that kind of yardage after a massive amount the week prior does show a level of mental sturdiness and skill.
Second, Rivers' 336 yards after a 500-yard game is the fourth-most all time. Fourth.
In 2011, Tom Brady had 517 passing yards against the Dolphins and then 423 against the Chargers. He's first. In 2006, Drew Brees had 510 against Cincinnati and then 349 against the Falcons. In 2014, Ben Roethlisberger had 522 against the Colts and then 340 against Baltimore.
10. Brilliant story on wife of Hall of Famer
I knew Gene Upshaw well. Sometimes he hated me, sometimes he liked me. That's how it should be. But he was always a class act, and he was one of the top two or three offensive linemen of all time. His linemate, Art Shell, was the same. If Upshaw and Shell played today, they would dominate the same way they did when playing for the Raiders decades ago.
I thought I knew a lot about Upshaw, but I didn't know this about his widow. The Washington Post's Lonnae O'Neal wrote an incredible story on her this week. It's worth your time.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.