March 17, 2015

"Is Chris Borland’s retirement the beginning of the end for the NFL?"

"Chris Borland is quitting...  as a linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers at 24 because he’s concerned about the long-term effects of repetitive head trauma. ."
Borland becomes the fourth player at the age of 30 or younger to retire in just the last week...
A third-round draft pick out of Wisconsin, he was one of the top rookies in the NFL last season and was due to make $530,000 in 2015. A history major, Borland made his choice after speaking with concussion experts and former players and will undergo baseline tests to monitor his health and “contribute to the greater research.”

“I just honestly want to do what’s best for my health,” Borland told ESPN’s Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru. “From what I’ve researched and what I’ve experienced, I don’t think it’s worth the risk … I feel largely the same, as sharp as I’ve ever been, for me it’s wanting to be proactive. I’m concerned that if you wait ’til you have symptoms, it’s too late. … There are a lot of unknowns. I can’t claim that ‘X’ will happen. I just want to live a long healthy life, and I don’t want to have any neurological diseases or die younger than I would otherwise.”

52 comments:

Brando said...

Well, it's definitely not a good sign. I don't know how they can reduce severe injuries in football, but with the size of these guys getting bigger and the hitting getting harder it's likely to get far worse.

I played a couple years in high school, but if I had a son there's no way I'd agree to him playing.

traditionalguy said...

J. J. Watts was too confused to offer a comment.

SteveR said...

The "Troy Polamalu Effect" (turning a simple tackle into a driving into the ground, burst of exertion) has become widespread and popular, but has increased the violence of an already violent game.

Thankfully my life is not centered on it.

clint said...

The NFL isn't going anywhere.

It *is* likely going to continue changing in odd SJW ways -- like making football about domestic violence.

lgv said...

I doubt it. He is currently the outlier in the risk-reward choice and the scale may slide, but there will always be enough supply to work in the NFL.

We will see more players retire early after a couple of events (concussions). It will just mean a higher turnover rate. More players will choose to retire earlier even without multiple traumas.

Perhaps the good out of it will be better preparation for early retirement by players.

BlanchedPotatoes said...

The NFL will only start to die when the TV audiences shrink, and that's only likely to happen if someone invents and televises an even more brutal sport.

MadisonMan said...

So now NFL teams have to factor in the Will he retire early because of concerns for his health? info into their drafting equation.

Good.

surfed said...

It may sound counterintuitive but if they went back to limited padding and leather (or no) helmets I think injuries would decrease or be of a lesser nature.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

I'm glad individuals can make personal decisions reflective of their own risk/reward, cost/benefit calculations. It's not worth it for Borland. It might be worth it for person x.

tim maguire said...

Football's always been violent, but most of the damage was done to the knees, with arthritis as the most serious long-term effect for most players.

Used to be there were two types of players--the big guys and the fast guys. But now, not only are the big guys bigger, they are fast too. Harder hitting is making concussions commonplace, and head injuries are a lot scarier than knee injuries. Counter-intuitively, there's some evidence that all the padding is making injuries worse by encouraging more recklessness in tackling. It's possible that in the future we will see less protective gear, rather than more.

BDNYC said...

What's so interesting about Borland's case is that he had so much to gain from continuing his career. He hasn't made all that much money in one season as a third round pick; certainly not enough to retire on. But after a strong rookie season, he was considered to be a future star who likely would have made tens of millions of dollars over his career.

And to him it wasn't worth the risk.

Tibore said...

The reality is that for every player that retires, there will be a line of guys waiting to take his place. Whether that's a good or a bad thing is open for debate, and I'm actually willing to grant that it may be both: Good because there will be someone else to play, bad because there's always someone willing to risk his health for the game.

I don't know what the answer is. Football's a fun game to watch, but the inherent danger makes it obvious that something needs to be done to mitigate the dangers.

khesanh0802 said...

A wise personal choice.

The NFL is making an attempt to lessen head injuries many of which are caused by "high tackles" and leading with the head. I don't think they are working as hard at it as they claim - watch any game. Rodney Harrison once suggested that the sure way to stop both those things was make them game ejection penalties. I am convinced he is correct.

If the outrageously dangerous hits can be eliminated ( I am convinced they can - it's a matter of refereeing/coaching) then the effects of the smaller continuous hits can be evaluated and, perhaps, ameliorated.

JSD said...

End of NFL? No, not ever. I saw Paul Tagliabue speak back when he was commissioner. He spoke about the NFL as a business and was excellent. The NFL is business juggernaut. It’s the most watched, biggest revenue generating TV show ever. Each NFL stadium is really just a TV studio that broadcasts eight regular season games. The TV money from those broadcasts dwarfs everything. He could stick a team in anywhere in America and it would make money. He hoped there would be a team in Los Angeles, but didn’t really matter. Unlike other sports which have seen revenue declines, NFL revenue increases every year. I just don’t see it stopping.

I played high school football for one season. One concussion, one broken nose and several chipped teeth. I loved it, but I realized that I was too small and too slow to play.

Andrew said...

Football is less violent today than prior to the 70s and 80s rule changes. The rule changes have made it so, under the old rules with these larger and faster players without those changes we'd be discussing game day deaths not concussions.

Football will be banned like coal mining due to the destruction of participants' health. Oh wait a minute.

Roughcoat said...

Remove face masks from helmets. Result: no more head-tackling (which entails leading with the face). Problem solved, pretty much.

readering said...

Pro Football will follow pro boxing in terms of attracting only impoverished groups.

William said...

I read somewhere that 78% of NFL players declare bankruptcy within five years of retirement. I don't think that's because of concussions. Football players are not famous for their wisdom and prudence. There are random exceptions, but give most young men the choice between fame, piles of money, casual sex with models and the possibility of brain damage, they will trust to better headgear.

MRG said...

It may sound counterintuitive but if they went back to limited padding and leather (or no) helmets I think injuries would decrease or be of a lesser nature.

I agree, but there would be a lot more blood from mouths and noses which would look bad on TV.

David said...

MadisonMan said...
So now NFL teams have to factor in the Will he retire early because of concerns for his health? info into their drafting equation.


And the contracts.

William said: "I read somewhere . . . "

Perhaps you could source this a little more clearly?

Wilbur said...

"Roughcoat said...
Remove face masks from helmets. Result: no more head-tackling (which entails leading with the face). Problem solved, pretty much."

I agree completely.


The "Troy Polamalu Effect" pales in comparison to the "Dick Butkus Seek and Destroy".

David said...

The NFL will be in trouble only if their farm teams, the colleges, get into trouble. While the NCAA seems to be paying some attention to head injury questions, they are not nearly as active as the NFL. Only if the colleges and the NCAA suffer significant financial risk from football injuries will this free farm system be in any danger.

All this said, football is a combat sport. All combat sports involve elements of physical risk. It's not just football, boxing and the other directly violent sports that present these risks. In those sports the violence is within the rules. But widely popular sports like basketball, soccer, baseball, auto racing and many others present significant risk of physical harm.

There are elements in our culture which would now be quite happy to ban all combat sports, which are largely the provence of men. The people in this camp may have financial interests (lawyers, politicians) or ideological interests (some elements of feminism).

But young men are risk takers, and should be allowed to take the risks. For very young males the parents should be allowed to evaluate the risks for them. This is probably the predominant societal value now, but it could change. It would be a terrible thing if it did. The male propensity to risk and danger does have negative effects, but it is also is a huge engine of human progress.

surfed said...

Football is a fairly boring game to watch live but has packaged expertly and delivered with pretentious flair by the national media. I like baseball. Ir moves along at a speed of play I can follow though a shorter 154 game season would be a blessing.

Amexpat said...

It may sound counterintuitive but if they went back to limited padding and leather (or no) helmets I think injuries would decrease or be of a lesser nature.

That's the way it is in Rugby, and I think they have less serious injuries.

SteveR said...

The "Troy Polamalu Effect" pales in comparison to the "Dick Butkus Seek and Destroy".

True enough but the popularity and exposure of the modern NFL compared to the 1960s' NFL is a big difference.

Anonymous said...

I think football related head injuries are a lot about hard shell helmets. As long as its to a defender's advantage to stick the crown of their helmet into the runner's/receiver's solar plexus (thereby possibly dislodging the ball or maybe knocking the guy out of the game), then they will continue the practise (think Jack Tatum). A shoulder tackle doesn't have the same effect.

Wilbur said...

Point taken, Steve R.

Bob Ellison said...

Disparate impact.

William said...

There was a 2009 study by Sports Illustrated that gave the number of 78% of NFL players declaring bankruptcy. The bankruptcy happened with two years of retirement. The study has been widely quoted.....So,when figuring the calculus of fame and fortune versus early dementia, eliminate the fortune part from the plus side of the ledger.....If the NFL can't figure out a way of preventing its players from going broke, what are the chances that they'll be able to prevent their players from having concussive head injuries?.....That same SI study found that NBA players, who didn't have concussive head injuries, went broke at the rate of 60% and that it took them five years to achieve bankruptcy. So if you're an elite athlete, basketball is the sport to master.

iowan2 said...

The end of the NFL starts when public high schools admit they can't justify the expense of football. No more feeder system.

iowan2 said...

The end of the NFL starts when public high schools admit they can't justify the expense of football. No more feeder system.

iowan2 said...

The end of the NFL starts when public high schools admit they can't justify the expense of football. No more feeder system.

Gahrie said...

The4 game was designed to be played by normal sized people...the impact of two people weighing 200lbs apiece is much different then the impact of two 350 pound people hitting each other.`

Birches said...

No. Next question.

Birches said...

The media is starting to take notice of "early" retirements because head injuries are their cause de jour.

But when Ricky Williams decided to leave the NFL as a young man, there wasn't the same amount of concern trolling that the media is giving this (and other) stories.

bobby said...

He's probably anticipating a costly divorce, and wants to drive his potential earnings down temporarily.

grackle said...

Long term the NFL has big problems. Concussions is one of them.

My son and I agree – no football for my grandson. Similar decisions are being made by many others. As soon as this present generation's potential fans who were never allowed to play football arrive on the viewing scene, the popularity of the NFL will begin declining. I think any popular sport needs a hardcore cadre of fans who have actually played the sport or at least been exposed to it at school.

Furthermore, unlike baseball and basketball, the NFL has no chance of becoming an international sport. Why? Because it costs too much to play. It needs a lot of player equipment(pads, helmets, uniforms, etc.) and is not making any inroads in the overseas school-age sports.

I envision a super-championship international basketball playoff series much like the FIFA of today. It's bound to happen.

MMA could have been an exception but at the height of its popularity it went pay per view only. We've seen what happened to boxing once it went pay per view. I still remember the championship boxing matches on television at my uncle's house. I saw the Walcott/Marciano fights there. BTW, I believe Marciano to be the best heavyweight who ever stepped into the ring.

Dave in Tucson said...

So far Borland is an outlier (in spite of what Althouse's pull quote may imply, 30 is not particularly young for a football player to retire).

For guys like Borland who quit while they're ahead, there are dozens of others (like Nick Collins and Jermichael Finley, to name two examples I'm familiar with) that retired only with extreme reluctance even after suffering major neurological trauma.

John Lynch said...

What interests me is why head injuries and long-term neurological problems aren't more common. Shouldn't they be? Why so few?

Is there a correlation with steroid use?

grackle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Curious George said...

The problem isn't concussion...that's a short term problem. They think it's repetitive lower impact that causes chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

NFL will be history at some point...youth leagues and high schools will drop it because of liability, and there will be no college football, and then bye bye NFL.

Curious George said...

The Packers will go on of course even if the league folds...they'll just keep selling worthless stock to their moron fans.

Anthony said...

Some have argued that when boxers started using padded gloves head injuries went up because they cold punch very hard without worrying about hurting their own hands when doing so. Same sort of argument for decreasing padding, eliminating facemasks, etc.

I'm unconvinced. It seems reasonable, but we have really poor data on concussions and the like before modern headgear so we have nothing to really compare modern rates of concussions with. But I do agree that poor tackling* and the proliferation of highlights has made the hits bigger. But then, I'm not sure if anyone's gone back to the 1960s and '70s to see if there was a similar amount of nasty hits.

* It irritates the crap out of me when some dope tries to "tackle" someone by just hitting them.

damikesc said...

Some have argued that when boxers started using padded gloves head injuries went up because they cold punch very hard without worrying about hurting their own hands when doing so. Same sort of argument for decreasing padding, eliminating facemasks, etc.

In regards to boxing, we actually do have an example of padded gloves causing more harm.

UFC fighters do not have thick gloves. Their punches hurt their hands more.

And while it is more "brutal", UFC has way, way, way fewer injuries and long-term health problems than boxing.

Curious George said...

"damikesc said...
And while it is more "brutal", UFC has way, way, way fewer injuries and long-term health problems than boxing."

Too soon to make that statement.

Chuck said...

I LOVE THIS STORY!

And I am a huge fan of Chris Borland, from the time of his freshman year in Madsion.

Like Althouse, I am a Michigan grad. Unlike Althouse, I am a season-ticket subscriber at The Big House and am a devoted fan of Michigan football. But I still love Chris Borland.

An undersized, underrated 2-3 star player out of Ohio, a Wisconsin legacy; a star from about the time of his second week in college football. Battled back from a bad upper-body injury as a junior. An underrated draft pick, and clearly a capable NFL player.

HERE'S THE THING: I don't think that anyone could get Chris Borland to say that he regrets playing college football, or that he thinks that his life will have been ruined by playing four years of collegiate football. I think Chris Borland is smart. And that he probably believes that the unreal level of hitting in the NFL, combined with the long preseason and the long season and the long playoff season is excessive.

I don't like the NFL; I love college football. I'd be quite happy if the NFL dissolved into nothing. College football thrives on guys like Chris Borland, and really doesn't need the NFL. College football was a huge spectator sport long before the NFL as we now know it even existed.

I think that the worst Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy cases in football are almost all long-time NFL players with many years' experience. Not collegiate players.

I love Chris Borland, and I love this decision and this story.

Revenant said...

This is all part of the secret international commie plan to get Americans to start watching soccer instead.

Of course, unlike most secret international commie plans, I kind of like that one.

Opinh Bombay said...

The real answer is to look at Pop Warner enrollment. Is it up or down?

I'm betting parents aren't letting their little darlings come near a football.

Beldar said...

If he can afford to retire, it's his choice to make, for any reason or no reason at all.

Static Ping said...

MMA could have been an exception but at the height of its popularity it went pay per view only.

Not quite. The UFC has free full cards on television every few months, including marquee title fights, some on free TV and some on cable. For the PPV shows, usually the under card is also on cable TV. I think they realize the danger.

As to football, who knows? The world seems to be following the Ferris Bueller theory of change: "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." If you told me the NFL would be bankrupt in 20 years, all I need to do is look back 20 years and see all the impossible things that have happened. Hard to shock me these days. I'd also believe you if you told me the NFL will have 4 franchises in Europe.

Dave in Tucson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew said...

Pro football players live healthier lives, live longer and commit suicide less than half the rate as the spectators.