Tuesday, April 21, 2015


By Ronald T. Fox


The premature retirement of budding San Francisco 49-er football star Chris Borland because of his concerns about the long-term cognitive effects of head collisions has refocused the debate about the risks of playing football. For Borland, retirement was not a knee-jerk decision. He did extensive homework on the connection between head trauma and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and talked to many people inside and outside of the game before deciding to retire. His conclusion was that football was not worth the risk to his health and safety.

The NFL’s reaction to Borland’s decision was predictable. It showed that the league still holds to the fantasy that risks can be effectively managed by safety protocols. Pointing to its own study that “concussions are down 25% in the last three years,” it proudly announced that “the game has never been safer,” a boast that should be considered in the context of its long history of fudging facts and dismissing evidence of lasting brain damage. Retired players are unlikely to believe, or be assuaged by, the league's boast.  Current players should be skeptical. Borland summarily dismissed the NFL’s claim as bogus as well as irrelevant. Borland believes the game is inherently dangerous, a fact that cannot be changed by safety measures.


Let's hope the Borland decision will motivate current and future players to seriously consider the risks of playing the game.  Unfortunately this may not happen given NFL propagandizing and the constant machismo lines being spewed out by self-appointed "experts" and right-wing radio jocks who claim that new safety rules are making the game too soft.  Maybe, at least, public pressure will force the NFL to be more transparent about health risks inherent in the game.

In the hope of renewing Phronesis conversations about the dangers of playing football and whether it is wise for parents to allow their children to play the game at a young age, when brains are more susceptible to injury, I refer readers to my previous posts on the problem of head injuries in football:  

Head Injuries in Football: The NFL Fumbles
Head Injuries in Football: The NFL Finally Responds
Head Injuries in Football and Domestic Violence
Changing the Culture of Football
Parents Beware 

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