By Ken Reed

I try very hard to resist the urge to call articles “must read” because when I use that term I want people to take it seriously. “Must read” is a descriptor that can be easily abused.
That said, I think Dave Zirin’s recent piece on the Chris Borland decision in The Nation is truly of “must-read” quality.

Zirin does a nice job of describing the magnitude of a young, healthy football player walking away from NFL riches to protect his brain. A rising star leaving a game he loves to avoid thousands of blows to his brain will send shockwaves throughout the football world, down to the youth football league level.

“Borland’s decision to leave the game has had major ramifications,” writes Zirin.

“Most critically, he has reframed the debate about tackle football from the one pushed by so many sports-radio time-fillers and right wing radio jocks: That what we have is a fight between people who love the game and mollycoddled commie femi-nazis who want to bubble-wrap our children and then ban the sport. Borland has moved the discussion toward what the real debate actually is: On one side, there are people who believe that the NFL should be transparent about the health risks that come with the game, especially as they are now running football clinics around the country for children; and on the other side, we have a multi-billion dollar corporation obfuscating the actual dangers, relying instead on PR-meisters like Frank Luntz to come up with sound bites and action-plans to convince the public that all is well, and it is safe for your children to come out and play.”

To gain added perspective on Borland’s decision from a socio-political-cultural perspective, Zirin interviewed Dave Meggysey, a former NFL player who left the game as part of his protest against the Vietnam War in the 1960’s. Borland had previously contacted Meggysey to talk about his decision to leave the NFL.

During his conversation with Borland, Meggysey told the young linebacker that:

“how you leave the game is very important. I said, ‘If you are able to raise the question of the game’s safety for parents and concerned people, that would be a very important thing to do.’ And my sense of what he’s done, the way he did leave the game, clearly did raise that question. He’s done it with a great deal of integrity, a great deal of intelligence, and that’s why a lot of players have supported him. … Of course, the League is not going to support him in this. Of course they’re going to try to say football’s safe. Well, football’s not safe. They talk about concussions when what we’re really talking about is brain damage. If you play this game, you’re going to walk away damaged. That’s why Chris Borland who loves this game, who was ready to star this season, left.”

Please trust me on this one. Because of how well it lays out the socio-cultural implications of Borland’s decision, Zirin’s column is a “must read.”

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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