Tuesday, 17 March 2015

The NFL: Head over Heart

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Chris Borland - San Francisco - Retired at 24
Sunday night and Monday morning is usually the time during the NFL season when decisions and reactions are made after the quota of NFL games and you reflect upon the week ahead and what changes are your teams going to make.

For the San Francisco 49ers, the season does not start for another six months and already they probably want the season to end. Having lost head coach John Harbaugh to the University of Michigan, and last week the retirement of linebacker Patrick Willis, the defense lost another player to retirement.  In this instance, it was all the more shocking as it came from rookie linebacker, Chris Borland, who retired from the game at the age of the 24.

"I just honestly want to do what's best for my health," Borland told "Outside the Lines (on ESPN)." "From what I've researched and what I've experienced, I don't think it's worth the risk."

Borland has left the decision until now as he wanted to talk at length to his family, doctors and some team-mates before telling the team.  He stated it was nothing to do with the franchise itself, this was a decision based on his health.  Borland, who earned a bachelor's degree in history at the University of Wisconsin, said he plans to return to school and possibly pursue a career in sports management. He had a four-year contract with the 49ers worth just under $3 million, which included a signing bonus of $617,436.

Borland becomes the fourth player under the age of 30 to retire. Along with Willis who was placed on injured reserve in November, you have Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds, 27, who wanted to pursue other interests. And Tennessee Titans quarterback, Jake Locker, 26, said he had "lost the burning desire necessary to play for a living".

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Patrick Willis - San Francisco - Retired at 30

The NFL is going to have a serious problem on its hands within the next three to five years.  The turnover of talent exists always, due to the quality of the draft, yet the worries and fears of concussion research is having a profound effect on young men who play the more dangerous positions, such as the linebackers with their sheer force and power in big hits delivered in the pursuit of injury.

Borland was referring to former NFL greats who were diagnosed with the devastating brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, after their deaths. Duerson and Easterling committed suicide. And do not forget the impact of Junior Seau's suicide, irrespective of his soon to be Hall of Fame induction, the fact that Seau ended his life after a 17 year career had more impact than the deaths of Duerson or Easterling.

The fact that more information is becoming available to these young men, who are learning that the physical wellbeing is not worth the financial reward and the threat of serious brain damage in later years is not worth the trouble.

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Jason Worilds - Pittsburgh - Retired at 27

That is where the NFL have to come to the fore of the research, firstly pay these former players, put better procedures in order for physical assessment - you tell me Julian Edelman did not finish the Super Bowl with a concussion, and you are not a doctor - and put financial punishments at the teams who do not allow independent doctors to do these assessments.

The product of the NFL is at its height of popularity currently, but it needs to look after its stars and journeyman by equal measure as they are to some extents being treated like disposable assets that are easily replaceable due to the college conveyor belt of talent; yet four retirements is worrying and will only go up.  The game is getting played faster and harder with hits replayed constantly on media outlets and perfect for this Instagram/Vine age of social media with its cache of impact and bravado.

Chris Borland should be applauded for his conduct and taking the time over a very serious decision, he should be happy that he has done the right thing for his personal safety and long term health.  Borland convincingly has used his head to rule over his love for the game, it is not about the money it is about playing well and without fear of damage to your health.

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