If you are interested in sports or the brain trauma/concussion debate you probably did not miss the news about Chris Borland’s abrupt retirement from the NFL and the San Francisco 49ers. In case you missed it, he broke this news to Outside the Lines on ESPN.
Since he made his decision there has been quite the discussion regarding why and what this means in the long-term; not only for football but for the awareness angle of this injury he has cited for his reason for hanging them up.
But what does it really mean, beyond the #hottakes from all over the internet?
When Borland decided it was his time walk away he knew there would be great interest, well had to know. It has not been the norm to see a 24-year-old to retire due to concerns over long-term effects of repetitive brain trauma. Most people in his position, now and going forward, are probably more concerned about making a living playing a game they love and a good one at that. But think about the ripple effect of this news.
But both of those decisions were pale in comparison to the news from Borland, who until he retired I and many hardly knew him outside of very devout followers of the league and team. The reaction was a combination of mass hysteria and shock with everyone waiting to chime in their opinion. We saw nothing like that from the other two more “high-profile” players before Borland. Why was this… Simple, Borland chose to cite one of the hottest topics in sports and football for his main reason, concussion.
The fact that so many had an opinion on this matter, outside of the usual people who follow this stuff (see this blog and others), means there is awareness – good or bad. What do people know about big toe injuries?
This is a good thing that Borland did and it can be good for ALL parties involved, even those that could care less about the NFL but like other sports. Borland’s retirement has forced everyone to take stock in the information that he used to make his decision.
He did not have to retire. He says he never had a concussion in the NFL, only two in his life. He was lined up to make money in a sport he loved and was being recognized a prominent upcoming player in the league. But the information he received/found and discussions with various people led him down this road less traveled.
That is the “now what” portion of this decision from Borland. The information. What was new to him, so much so that he walked away? Is this information new to the rest of us? Can this information that he attained help the sport and other sports going forward? Can this information lead to better care of this injury? How do we get this information out there for all to make their own opinions about?
The funny part, is that I can be confident in guessing that the information Borland, has in his hand, is nothing new. Its been here for all to see for some time, finally someone took heed in the information and did something about it, for themselves.
The “now what” is to make sure we are clear with what we know, warts and all, so that others can make informed decisions. It also includes more players citing this reason to walk away – I have a suspicion that a few have done so in the past (recent) but have not used this as a reason publicly – Jake Locker anyone? It has happened many times in college from the highly viewed and followed D-I all the way down to the D-III level, Clint Trickett anyone?
This should not be news any more for the game, this should be part of the expected outcomes of a brutal but beautiful sport. We accept players retiring early for orthopedic reasons, why should we not accept them for neurological reasons.
No one should view this as the straw that broke the camels back for the NFL or football, because it is not. There a plenty more Chris Borland’s, Clint Trickett’s, Jake Locker’s and Patrick Willis’s out there and better that are beating the door down to get their chance in the league. But it should be a fair warning shot across the bow that this is a problem, greater than they are paying attention to publicly.
The “now what” needs to be a candid discussion of what we can do to make this a less common occurrence going forward. I for one am glad Chris Borland decided to make this a big deal, unintentionally, because it will once again show that people have been working hard on this issue for some time.
Remember that the injury of concussion is not the real issue here – it is a daily occurrence in life and sport – the real issue is the mismanagement of this injury. Concussion cannot be prevented as we currently understand Physic’s and equipment so spend time and energy into nailing down the proper way to handle the initial injury so we don’t have long-term issues. That is the “now what”.