San Francisco 49er Linebacker Chris Borland is a talented young player who had a promising career in the NFL. Yet, citing the potential for injury, he has decided the game is just not worth it.
Linebacker Chris Borland of the San Francisco 49ers, one of the top rookies in the N.F.L. last season, is the latest case, and perhaps the most noteworthy. He said Monday that he was retiring because of concerns about his safety, and his decision may have ripple effects well beyond the professional ranks.
“From what I’ve researched and what I’ve experienced, I don’t think it’s worth the risk,” Borland told ESPN, referring to the multiple concussions he had sustained.
With his decision, Borland joins fellow 49er Patrick Willis, 30, who also announced that he would retire because of safety concerns. Willis was a seven-time All-Pro linebacker. Last year, it was 27-year-old Seatlle Seahawks wide receiver Sidney Rice who left the NFL because of weariness over the dangerous hits he was dealt. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan, 31, of the Miami Dolphins, quarterback Jake Locker, 26, of the Tennessee Titans, and linebacker Jason Worilds, 27, of the Pittsburgh Steelers have also said rather early goodbyes to the game this month, although they did not specify it was due to the risk of injury.
Some would consider this a waste of talent. Others, like President Obama, would more than likely applaud their decision.
"I would not let my son play football," the president said in an interview with The New Yorker last year.
“And I think that those of us who love the sport are going to have to wrestle with the fact that it will probably change gradually to try to reduce some of the violence.
“In some cases, that may make it a little bit less exciting, but it will be a whole lot better for the players, and those of us who are fans maybe won’t have to examine our consciences quite as much.”
Actually, most football fans aren’t worried about their consciences – they’re worried about the next touchdown.
Football certainly comes with a little more than bangs and bruises. Concussions are serious injuries and have the potential to develop into something worse. Some have proposed new helmets with stronger materials to help make the game safer.
But, the truth is, there are risks in any sports profession. Hockey players are slammed against the boards, soccer players run grueling miles every match, and tennis players often suffer from tendinitis.
Why do they continue taking the abuse? They love the game.
In her Townhall piece featured last year, “Welcome to the No Fun Left,” Elisabeth Meinecke quoted former NFL player Burgess Owens on his decision to choose passion over panic.
The bottom line, however, is injury in any activity is neither unavoidable nor guaranteed. “At the end of the day, there are risks, there’s no question, in any sport, any activity,” says Owens, who played defensive back and was taught to hit the old-fashioned—and far more dangerous—way before he retired in 1982.
“Everyone has to decide the risk factor,” he continues later. “Things are going to happen that you cannot foresee. You have to decide whether the risk is worth the enjoyment, and what you’re getting out of it. Personally, the risk was so worth it for me, because of what I learned from the sport.”
Players like Owens don’t only step on the field to score touchdowns. A few of the valuable lessons football players take away from the sport include: running toward challenges, not shrinking from them, the value of teamwork, dealing with adversity and developing a tough-as-nails spirit.
The positive effect of the game is perhaps best summed up in this Chicago Tribune reporter's poignant analysis:
On the football field, adversity comes with every snap. The game teaches kids that when they get knocked down, the only response is to get up.
Chris Borland and his fellow ex-NFLers certainly have the right to do what they think is best for them and their families. Yet, I hope remaining NFL stars are listening to their heart, and not their fears. If they love what they do, I hope they don't follow suit. Instead, I hope they suit up.