Chris Borland, a 24 year old linebacker with the San Francisco 49ers, has made the decision to retire from the National Football League because of fears of concussions and the consequences playing football could have on the rest of his life. He made this decision prior to the onset of any chronic symptoms and after presuming that he may have suffered from a concussion at some point in the past (when attempting to make the team).
Straight, No Chaser has discussed concussions in previous posts, including the following (click the links to review):
- Traumatic Brain Injuries, Part I
- Traumatic Brain Injuries, Part II
- Concussions Post-Script – A Neurologist’s Thoughts
In this space we talk a lot about health as currency and how our choices spend that currency. It wouldn’t be very Straight, No Chaser not to call this what it is: a very smart decision, which Mr. Borland is very fortunate to be able to make. His background and personal circumstances allow him to place a different value judgment on the risk/benefit ratio that playing professional football offers. To some degree many of us place ourselves in dangerous work environments: healthcare workers are exposed to diseases, police officers and firemen are exposed to danger, construction workers face multiple occupational hazards and on and on.
It becomes an additional concern when health risks are minimized or denied. It has only been in the last few years that the extent of the dangers of pro football have been analyzed, ranging from concussions to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a condition that results from multiple head injuries and can include multiple neurologic symptoms including memory loss, confusion, aggression, depression and suicide. Several notable former NFL players have committed suicide and on autopsy were found to be suffering from CTE.
It’s not that playing football will cause these conditions; it’s that it clearly increases the risks. We are past the point of pretending it’s a debate. Folks, head trauma causes brain injury, and repeated head injuries are incredibly likely to cause chronic brain injury and damage. This is especially true in children who are physically abused in ways that affect the still-developing brain, and it is especially true is sports that cause violent, repeated trauma to the head.
Yes, it’s somewhat tragic that those of a certain social standing disproportionately feel like they have to make the choice to risk their health to pursue certain careers. However, there does come a time when as long as these choices are educated, informed choices, you have to accept that whether we’re discussing smoking, drinking, working in a hospital, boxing or playing professional football, in the U.S., freedom of choice doesn’t equate to absence of risk. When it comes to those whose careers are spent in harm’s way, we hope accurate information, advice and education continue to be offered instead of opinions, obstruction and half-truths.
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