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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Must Read: ESPN the Magazine Article on Chris Borland

This article brings out the Nostradamus in me.

ESPN calls him the most dangerous man in football.  Perhaps to try to be more grammatically precise, they could call him the most dangerous man to football.  Either way, his retirement after a great rookie season because of a fear of doing long-term damage to himself based upon current empirical (and walking) evidence should scare anyone who has anything to do with football.  You also might recall the comment of future Hall of Famer Ed Reed, who offered that he played football so that his children wouldn't have to.  And then there's President Obama, who stated that he wouldn't have encouraged his kids (if they were boys) to play football.

For some kids, football is the reason they go to school, it is a way out, but then that way out ends.  Why?  Because most cannot earn scholarships.  And, for some who do, they quickly realize that they might not like studying much after high school.  Others get hurt, and scholarships are "one year renewable."  And for those who play well, they might be able to play professionally in the Arena League or CFL or NFL.  But then for how long?  And then what?  It would be interesting to see the statistics on what players do after they football careers end and the breakdown of earnings based upon who has a college degree and who does not.  There are other metrics out there -- perhaps related to health -- that should be measured, too.

The Nostradamus in me says that what protects football are the fans' need for violence, the fans' need for an event that is easy to bet on because of the point spread, and those who played it years ago who are defending a culture because they cannot bear to admit that what they participated in is harmful long-term to those who participate in the game.  How many "I love football" types do you hear on the sports talk shows and on the major networks?  And they get paid to talk about the product on the field when they know from experience and from friends who played who just are not well now what the cost of that product is in terms of human health.  It can be staggering.

Theodore Roosevelt was courageous enough to reform the game at the turn of the 20th century, when people were dying in games because of flying wedges and the ability to get a running start from the backfield toward the line of scrimmage.  He called the powers that be together and told them to fix their problem, and rules evolved, as they have over the years and as has the equipment.  But now the game has morphed into where there is a long-term health problem.  Players are not dying on the field like they were in the early 1900's; instead, they are doing things to themselves that accelerates a deterioration in their health and the dying process.  That's more subtle, but that doesn't mean the problem is not as pronounced.  And for every person who played in the NFL who gets publicity about his problems, there have to be tenfold more who are feeling the effects of playing football from Pee Wee through high school or college, too. 

Perhaps there is no one with the courage to address this problem.  Sure, the NFL has a committee, and a group of former players resolved litigation, but is the Federal government, the NFL and each college taking it as seriously or simply treating this issue as a risk management issue and a cost of doing business?  Perhaps there is a need to innovate equipment, to compel players to wear a bodysuit that combines breathing technology, airbags and Kevlar to protect players from the worst of its, so that the hits get absorbed in a different way?  Perhaps there is a need for massive rule changes, where football becomes more like flag football.  It's hard to know what is getting done, but it makes me wonder what those who study societies will think about ours when they look back 100 years from now and ruminate on this game of football.

Will they think it was civilized?  Will they think it was like Christians and lions in a coliseum?  Will they think that people must have been crazy to do this voluntarily?  Something tells me that advancing medical science will say affirmative to the last question.  And, if that's the case, why not take measures to reform the game dramatically now? 

How many suicides or cases of ALS or dementia must there be?  Of people in so much pain and so disabled that they have trouble functioning at way too early an age to have such troubles? 

Chris Borland is trouble for the NFL.  He did his own research and did not like what he found.  Sure, he won't be able to walk around and say he's a member of an NFL team and have all that cache.  And, he won't walk away now and make NFL money doing something else right away. 

But at least he can walk, and his walking away now gives him a much better chance of being able to walk well when he's in his sixties and seventies, will give him a much better chance of being able to know where he's walking, and will give him a much better chance to live a long and healthy life. 

He is giving up the opportunity to "be a football hero." 

But history probably will tell us that his walking away will help add to the quality of the lives of many and perhaps save some.

He is a dangerous man to the football industry.

And he is just one of the first.

More are coming.


Blogger Phil L said...


You're right on the money with this one. And your allusion to Roman forms of entertainment is particularly telling. It foretells a future where it's not Chris Borland who chooses to walk away from football mid-career. It's the middle class, mostly white, moms that steer their sons away from the brain-bashing of football before their involvement with the sport even starts.

How comfortable can any society be staging a sporting spectacle where the participants are overwhelmingly of one race and socio-economic background whilst the spectators are of another? Sure, sports like mixed martial arts have their following, but not the pllace in the culture that fooball has, at least for now.


5:38 AM  

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