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July 23, 2013

NFL injury risk has Hall-of-Fame dad concerned for rookie son

(Continued)

Howie taught Chris so well that he was the second player chosen in the 2008 NFL draft. But Howie began to subtly steer Kyle away from the game, believing one son in the NFL was enough. "It's not for everybody," Howie told Kyle. "If you don't want to do it, it says nothing about you as a person." When Kyle developed a 96-mph fastball as a high schooler, Howie talked up the major leagues. Better to be a baseball player, he said, and make more money for less pain. Kyle was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 23rd round of the 2008 draft but instead accepted a baseball scholarship from Florida State.

"Subconsciously, I probably pushed him to baseball because I wanted somebody to do something where you didn't just get hit every day," Howie says. "I fought it."

But Kyle lasted only one semester at Florida State. He returned to football, enrolling at Saddleback Junior College in California, then transferring to the University of Oregon. As a starter there last season, it quickly became apparent that he, too, had first-round talent.

If Howie warned Kyle about the physical toll of the game, Diane warned of the perils of choosing a profession out of obligation. "Have you thought about what life will be day to day, the sacrifices you will make?" she asked. "Does it make you truly happy? Is this what you want to do? Or do you feel pressured or compelled?"

None of the above, Kyle replied.

"This is who I am," he said.

Less than two months before his first preseason game, Kyle sat in the rookie symposium, his head already on a swivel as speaker after speaker prepped him for life in the NFL. At the front of the room, a moderator and former player named Ross Tucker announced a chilling statistic: Of the 254 recent draftees, barely half would play three years or more. The rookies would hear some semblance of that warning repeatedly over three days.

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