NFL notes

Union head takes on NFL on player safety issues

So much for labor peace in the NFL.

Less than 18 months after the league and players ended a lockout by signing a 10-year collective bargaining agreement, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith and union president Domonique Foxworth used a Super Bowl news conference to lay out a series of complaints about safety issues Thursday.

Smith began by threatening to file a grievance if the NFL refuses to institute a system to verify the credentials of all medical personnel on the 32 teams. He mentioned three amendments the NFLPA wants to make to the new CBA, including the appointment of "a neutral chief safety officer who can hear appeals about acceptable levels of medical care."

He called the NFL's lockout of its officials at the start of this season "one of the most deliberate disregards of player safety that I think has occurred in the National Football League since our inception."

All in all, it sent a clear message that the union and owners have significant differences about how to improve players' health and safety.

The union has been pressing the NFL to put independent neurological consultants on sidelines during games to help diagnose and treat concussions, something league general counsel Jeff Pash announced at a news conference earlier Thursday he expects to begin next season.

But Smith would only acknowledge having "heard that they have relented, at least in some respect, to have sideline concussion experts. We have not seen the proposal."

Pash did say that "details need to be worked through" with the NFLPA.

The NFL is facing concussion-related lawsuits from thousands of former players. In a series of interviews about head injuries with The Associated Press in December 2011, 31 of 44 players said they wanted the league to have independent neurologists at games.

At its media session Thursday, the union presented the results of an internal survey that it said showed a majority of players are not satisfied with the way their team manages injuries and that most do not trust their team's medical staff. The union would not say how many players participated, however.

Foxworth mentioned the use of replacement officials, the NFL's desire for an 18-game season, the increased slate of Thursday night games and the New Orleans Saints bounty investigation as examples of items that have driven a wedge between the players and the league.

Driver to retire

Donald Driver is retiring, with a formal announcement planned next week for the Green Bay Packers all-time leading receiver.

The Packers made the announcement early Thursday.

In a statement, Driver says he's always enjoyed a "special bond" with Packers fans, and "can think of no better way to retire than to celebrate with them and the Packers organization."

Driver will officially retire Wednesday at the Lambeau Field Atrium. He finishes as the Packers all-time leader in yards receiving (10,137 yards) and catches (743), and is third behind Don Hutson and Sterling Sharpe with 61 touchdown receptions.

Gay-rights backers wait for their Jackie Robinson

Brendon Ayanbadejo has been encouraged by all those who applaud his support of gay marriage.

Then, just days before the biggest game of the year, he received a striking reminder of the macho attitudes that still prevail in the NFL.

San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver apologized Thursday for saying during Super Bowl media day that he wouldn't welcome a gay player in the locker room. Culliver insists he was only joking and that's "not what's in my heart."

But Ayanbadejo, a Baltimore Ravens linebacker, estimates that at least half of the NFL's players would agree with what Culliver said. And that would make it difficult for a homosexual player to come out publicly.

Ayanbadejo says it will take a Jackie Robinson-type figure to break down the barrier.

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