Chris Borland caught the sports world by surprise yesterday by announcing his retirement from the NFL after just one promising season playing for the San Francisco 49’s, but brain injury experts are coming out in support of the athlete’s brave decision.
“It’s surprising because you don’t see it happen,” said Dr. Kevin Winter, one such brain injury expert and sports medicine specialist in orthopedic surgery who runs a concussion clinic through Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. “I can’t imagine what a difficult decision this guy had in light of the dream of playing in the NFL and all that money.”
Borland told ESPN he was retiring because of concerns about head trauma and potential long-term repercussions from concussions. His announcement was especially notable as it comes at a time when the NFL is working to finalize a class-action lawsuit including over 4,000 former players.
“I just thought to myself, ‘What am I doing? Is this how I’m going to live my adult life, banging my head, especially with what I’ve learned and knew about the dangers?'” Borland said Monday on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.”
“He’s saying maybe the price tag is not worth it,” Walters said of Borland. “That’s pretty cool. More power to him. I think he made the right decision.”
When asked what other advice Walter might have for athletes in similar positions to Borland, Walter said “My advice would be to follow your brain, follow your heart. I think he’s (Borland) right considering chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a real thing. It’s an illness. It’s a problem.”
Chris Nowinski, author, former pro wrestler, and co-founder of Sports Legacy Institute (SLI) also expressed surprise and support to Borland’s announcement.
“I didn’t see it coming,” said Nowinski. “This was somebody who got educated on the issue, and the choices he was facing. I wasn’t sure if there were current players interested enough to do their homework.”
These opinions were in stark contrast to those expressed by doctors associated with the NFL. After Borland’s announcement, Pittsburgh Steelers team neurosurgeon Joseph Maroon appeared on NFL Network on Tuesday and expressed doubt. “The problem of CTE, although real, is being over-exaggerated,” he said. “It’s a rare phenomenon.”
Maroon then went on to claim the NFL has “never been safer” and argues “It’s much more dangerous riding a bike or a skateboard than playing youth football.”
Unfortunately, the doctor’s statements conflict with both the opinions of other independent experts and the NFL’s own statements. The NFL has admitted approximately 30 percent of all former players will develop long-term cognitive problems during their lifetimes. Similarly, recent findings indicate youth football may be especially dangerous as children’s brains may be particularly vulnerable to impacts. Researchers believe this vulnerability increases the risk of long-term damage.
Borland’s retirement should serve as a wake-up call to the NFL, but if Maroon’s comments are indicative, the league is more interested in PR damage control.