By Ken Reed
Chris Borland has walked away from the NFL after an excellent rookie season with the San Francisco 49’ers. The reason? Concerns about brain trauma.
He wasn’t the first. Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Sydney Rice and offensive lineman Jacob Bell of the Cincinnati Bengals walked away from the game prematurely, citing concerns about concussions and brain damage.
Borland was scheduled to make more than a half-million dollars in 2015 playing football. But he didn’t think that was worth risking his long-term health.
“I just honestly want to do what’s best for my health,” Borland told ESPN’s Outside the Lines.
“From what I’ve researched and what I’ve experienced, I don’t think it’s worth the risk … 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 know about the dangers?'”
What Borland did takes courage. Not so much because of the money he left behind, but because of the macho man culture he’s leaving. Being fearless, playing with pain, etc., are all part of the NFL culture … the football culture really, as the “just suck it up” attitude permeates high school and youth league football as well. Pulling away from that kind of mindset, especially at age 24, certainly couldn’t have been easy for Borland.
“It shows the macho culture of ‘destroy yourself for the game’ is losing its grip, that it’s no longer cool to question people’s toughness,” said Chris Nowinski, an expert on sports concussions who’s associated with Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. “That represent a big shift in thinking.”
Borland leaving a promising NFL career behind, and openly saying the reason for the move was his concern about the implications of constantly banging his head (it’s not just concussions, repetitive sub-concussive hits take their toll too), might make it easier for other players — at all levels of the game — to make the same decision.
“Obviously, guys will continue to play football,” tweeted ESPN football analyst Kirk Herbstreit. “But I guarantee the Borland early retirement gets the attention of a lot of moms and youth football.”
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world, with over 150 camps in 30+ U.S. states and Canada. We discuss problems in youth sports today, including single sport specialization, the growing gap between the “haves” and “have-nots,” the high drop-out rate in competitive sports, and the growing mental health challenges young athletes are dealing with today.
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Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.”
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
Episode #23 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Olympian Benita Fitzgerald Mosley Talks Title IX, Youth Sports and the Olympics.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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