League, Players Have Safety Issues

In an age of terrorism-as-usual, Osama bin Laden and his ilk could have an effect on NFL Europe and the players designated to go there.

History is a funny thing. When it happens, it isn't history. It's only later that it is viewed in its proper context.

So it was on Sept. 11, 2001. When terrorists commandeered planes out of Boston and attacked New York and Washington D.C., America learned it was vulnerable to the same terrorist activities that have plagued many other countries throughout the world.

Whether it was timing -- the attacks happened early on a Tuesday morning (hours after the completion of NFL Week One -- or recognition of past mistakes, the NFL suddenly appeared on the terrorist radar screen.

A very public debate ensued following the Sept. 11 attacks whether the games of Sept. 16 should be played. The NFL's old guard still carried the scars of not postponing games of Nov. 24, 1963 -- two days after the assassination of President Kennedy. Many believed that keeping America's newest pastime going was important following Sept. 11. But, with the Jets being asked to fly across country to Oakland, as well as the Patriots asked to fly (the terrorist planes took off from Logan Airport in Boston), it was clear that the NFL would face a forfeit (at least in the case of the Jets-Raiders game) if the league wasn't shut down for a week.

If you're wondering where this is leading, look no further. VU has been told that the NFL, its players and their agents as well as the U.S. government is contemplating whether to play NFL Europe this spring. While the United States has beefed up its internal security, it has only an advisory role with European countries that host NFL Europe.

The league realized when it stopped the 2001 season after one week that its impact would be felt. If the terrorist community didn't realize the impact on America that the NFL has, it surely became obvious following the attacks. Public debate among media types -- VU reversed its initial reaction to play the games (so as not to let the terrorists "win") to err on the side of caution until the country was better prepared to handle the threat. NFL Europe may be facing a similar crisis.

Whereas World War II opponents of the U.S. had hoped that shutting down Major League Baseball would be a moral victory, the so-called Axis of Evil learned (perhaps inadvertently) how much the NFL represents the common man in American society. A terrorist attack on the NFL would be comparable to an attack on all Americans.

VU has been told that league officials are discussing the possibility of moving the NFL Europe games to places within the U.S. -- Florida has been one area mentioned -- so as to protect players and fans from potential attack. While some may view this as a "sky is falling" mindset, several allocated players have expressed concerns for their own safety and the league may be forced to take drastic measures -- especially with a war with Iraq looming on the horizon and Al Queda still operational.

By the time the rest of the national media hooks on to this story, a decision will have been made one way or the other -- go or no go on NFL Europe 2003. But, VU continues to be told that nothing is set in stone and that, if threats to the U.S. continue, the season may be scrapped or moved to within the U.S. borders until the heat dies down.

SUNDAY NOTES
* An ugly rumor that could affect the Vikings draft slot is coming out of Chicago. VU has been told by a connected Bears source that the team may be interested in signing soon-to-be released QB Kordell Stewart. If that happens, the Bears won't be interested in drafting QB Byron Leftwich. The VU source also said if the Bears don't take Leftwich, the person they have slotted to their spot at No. 4 is DT Jimmy Kennedy, who VU currently has going to the Vikes with the seventh pick in our mock draft Version 1.0.
* If Kennedy is gone by the time the Vikings pick, one name VU continues to hear high praise from team brass about is Washington State DT Rien Long, who could beat out CB Terence Newman on the Vikings wish list.
* Willie Shaw's new deal with the Vikings calls for him to scout future Vikings opponents on the West Coast, where he lives. However, a deep Vikings source has told VU that, if the team turns things around, don't be shocked to see Shaw at Winter Park helping the team for a playoff run.

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