Five months ago, 49ers linebacker Chris Borland abruptly retired, sacrificing certain fortune so future him can remember where he put his car keys. Today ESPN's website unveiled an in-depth story on Borland, which reads like Outside the Lines in print. That is to say it's very good (note: the story will also appear in their "2015 NFL Preview" newsstand issue).
In the feature, Borland revealed a number of interesting details from throughout his pigskin career, spanning from frequent painkiller usage whilst he was a Wisconsin Badger, to the fact that a former unnamed NFL player suggested rookies each get a "fall guy" as advice to stay out of jail (instead of, you know, not breaking the law). However, one of (if not the) most interesting disclosure(s) may have been Borland's seemingly outrageous estimate of the number of concussions he's had throughout his life. (Especially on a day where we learned that former quarterback Erik Kramer tried to kill himself.)
Borland visited the Boston School of Medicine to speak to people who likely know what the fuck they're talking about on the subject of brain trauma. It was there that Borland revealed his staggering guess. From the article:
"Some people have the misconception that concussions occur only after you black out when you get a hit to the head or to your body," the graduate assistant told him. "But in reality, concussions have occurred any time you've had any symptoms for any period of time." She ticked them off: blurred vision, seeing stars, sensitivity to light or noise, headaches, dizziness, etc.
"Based on that definition, how many concussions do you think you've had?" she asked.
"I don't know, 30?" he said finally. "Yeah, I think 30's a good estimate."
That right there is pretty much the reason you won't see Borland suiting up in pads
next year ever again.
While it's natural to read this article and come to the conclusion that Chris is an outlier, and that the league will survive the loss of a lone linebacker, Borland spoke at the National Summit on Sports Concussion in Los Angeles and revealed why he thinks the future of the league is completely screwed. Said Borland to a room stacked with researchers:
"I made a decision a few months ago to walk away from football based on not only what I'd come to learn but also what I'd experienced. The game may be safer; you can make an argument about that. My experience over my five years at Wisconsin and my one year in the NFL was that there were times where I couldn't play the game safely. There are positive measures we can take ... but on a lead play, on a power play, there's violence."
And that's really the elephant in the room on the whole subject. There's a number of plays that you can watch over the course of any week (and likely any game) where a violent hit is inevitable. Sometimes the flag comes out so the NFL can argue that they're taking preventive steps seriously. Sometimes they let them play through it. Either way someone in a living room somewhere is shouting at their TV over the maddening inconsistency.
Still, here's hoping that Borland's pessimistic prediction about the future of his former sport proves incorrect. Because even though it's sometimes fun to laugh at an oblivious commissioner (or a league full of itself), it would suck very, very much to no longer be able to sit on our ass(es) and watch football during a fall weekend.
In 15 years let's hope days
wasted enjoying doing just that haven't become their own distant memory.
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