Chris Borland and the Bigger Issue at Hand

San Francisco 49ers v New York Giants

Yesterday we learned that San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland will be retiring at the young age of 24. Coming off a strong rookie campaign, this news seemed pretty odd. Why would a player with so much potential end his career like this? One more solid season and he would put himself in line for a contract in the neighborhood of $30 million. That’s a lot of money to turn down. As dumb as this may sound to the average joe, there’s a much bigger issue present here.

Generally when people think about their future, they think about their family, their job, and their health. You want to be able to talk and interact with your family, do the things you love without any issue, and sleep well at night. I would say these are all pretty normal standards that most people would like to have. Well what if all of those were threatened? What if there was a possibility that talking to your family would be a difficult task to complete? Doing the things you love would no longer be an option because of your health. Chances are you’d do a whole lot to try to avoid that terrifying situation. Well Chris Borland is no different.

The question ultimately comes down to quality of life vs millions of dollars. Bashing heads with other humans at a consistent basis definitely falls under the category of occupations that put your quality of life at risk. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has been the dark shadow of physical sports for the past decade. It’s the touchy topic that nobody wants to address, but everyone is afraid of. The NHL and NFL have both had their fair share of events with ties to the devastating brain disease. Mike Webster, Dave Duerson, Ray Easterling, and Junior Seau are just a few names that come to mind. All of these NFL players’ deaths were tied to CTE. Bob Probert, Rick Martin, Derek Boogaard, Wade Belak, and Rick Rypien are a handful of NHL players whose deaths have also been ruled as CTE-related. These sports are brutally physical and that won’t change; but the way issues like CTE are addressed and handled need to be adjusted at some point in time.

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The NFL has created strict concussion rules over the last few years to try and help decrease head injuries. This is a good start but still doesn’t do the trick. In the second half of this year’s Super Bowl, New England Patriots’ wide receiver Julian Edelman was sandwiched by two Seattle Seahawk linebackers while running up field. Crawling on all fours after the hit, he slowly gathered himself and, with the help of three teammates, got back onto his feet. Edelman stumbled around for the remainder of the game and required the help of others to get back upright on almost every play. After the game, it was reported that he had passed a concussion test on the sideline and was cleared to play by the team trainer. Unless this test was a coach asking “Julian you good?”, there’s no way in hell that man cleared a league-approved test. Edelman thought he was playing tennis for the last ten minutes of that game and everyone knew it. It’s things like this that lead players like Chris Borland to make the wise decision to call it quits when they start down a dark road.

This offseason has seen a pattern of young players retiring. Borland’s teammate, 30 year old pro bowler Patrick Willis retired in the prime of his career due to fears of serious injuries. Jake Locker (26) and Cortland Finnegan (31) also followed suit. This is a scary pattern for the NFL. Will it become a major trend? Who knows. But what we can hope for is that is will make the NFL and even NHL take a closer look at a seriously terrifying issue they have on their hands. At some point it becomes a question of how much these guys value their lives once their professional careers are over and even how much the leagues value their athletes’ lives. Concussion issues and CTE are two things that can no longer just be viewed at the surface. I commend Chris Borland for taking a stand and doing what he felt was the smart decision. It takes a man to do the logical.

Your move NFL.

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