Much ado about noggins: 49ers’ defensemen leaves league for healthier pastures

Earlier this week, an NFL player that nobody had ever heard of announced his retirement.  His reason:  fear of irreparable brain damage.  His departure from the game he barely played made national headlines and became yet another reminder of the savagery of a sport in limbo.

BorlandWait a minute!  Do you mean to tell me that it took an otherwise, irrelevant 24-year old to remind us the league is facing a concussion crisis?  Shouldn’t Roger Goodell be doing this daily?  Or is he too busy revisiting his league’s “conduct policy?”

While San Francisco 49er linebacker Chris Borland showed promise as a rookie, he wasn’t exactly a household name.  Until now.  That’s because he is the latest individual to remind us that the NFL is a violent game, as if we didn’t know that already.

Google Chris Borland today and you’ll get 6,000,000 hits.  Ironically, it’s the next hit he’d take that prompted his retirement.

Honestly, unless you lived in either Madison, Wisconsin or San Francisco, California, you probably had never heard of Borland prior to yesterday’s announcement.  The former NFLer would have been a second-year linebacker out of the University of Wisconsin had he stayed in uniform.  Instead, the NFL is in his rear view mirror, unless of course… showing a deep concern about where his league is headed, Commissioner Goodell assigns Borland to some cushy post designed to research ways to make the league safer.  It’d make for great publicity.

But that won’t solve the problem.

The list of retired NFL players that have suffered brain damage and correlated CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) continues to grow.  We didn’t need Borland’s announcement to remind us how dangerous the game is.  This is something the NFL needs to address daily before the sport runs out of players willing to play it.

Robert SmithDo you remember Robert Smith?  You should.

Robert Smith was one of the best running backs around.  He graduated from the Ohio State University and was selected in the first round by the Minnesota Vikings.  After playing eight years in the NFL, Smith was due to make huge money but instead decided to retire.  Why?  Because he wanted to be able to walk when he was done playing the game.

Saying the NFL is a savage league is an understatement.  Anyone who puts on that uniform understands that death or at a minimum some sort of incapacitation is a distinct possibility with every snap.  It’s a crisis that commissioners long before Goodell had to be aware of but it ended up squarely on his lap with nary an answer to be found.

I don’t envy the man.  There’s no way to ensure that two, fully-padded,  350-lb. men running into each other at full speed eighty times a Sunday for sixteen consecutive Sundays don’t risk injury.

Borland realized that.  He heard names like Dan Duerson, Junior Seau, Jovan Belcher and many, many more and it scared him shitless.  Understandably.

Ask yourself.  If you were a giant, athletic human being, would you risk your life, or run the risk of shortening it, for millions of dollars?  That’s what every NFL player asks themselves every time they step on the field.

Chris Borland no longer has to do that.  It might not be long before others follow in his footsteps.

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11 Replies to “Much ado about noggins: 49ers’ defensemen leaves league for healthier pastures”

  1. Chris

    It’s always been much ado about nothing with the Niners of late . Harbaugh lost control of the team and the confidence of the front office . Players such as Aldon Smith and Ray McDonald were train wrecks waiting to happen and did happen . McDonald is now suing a female acquaintance for defamation of character and slander . The same female he is said to have sexually assaulted . It’s been a pattern of behavior and the reason why the Niners cut his dumb @ss but because he wants back in ____ resuming his career in the NFL , this he believes is the only recourse open to him and not the fact he has a problem, that needs to be dealt with.

    Dropped a new ode concerning the NBA and the NCAA Tournament . Check it out and let me know what you think.

  2. Chris

    Have you read the idiotic claims by an alleged neurosurgeon that CTE’s and its dangers are over exaggerated ? I guess that’s why Bernie Kosar and Jim McMahon are now bumbling idiots barely cognizant of where they are , let alone being able to speak coherently . Robert Smith returned to college and obtained his medical degree (covering pediatrics as well as neurology) .

  3. I thought Borland was a steal in last year’s draft (3rd round) and he proved me right playing without missing a beat for an injured Patrick Willis at ILB for most of the season. Incidentally Willis also announced his retirement on March 10th after 8 years in the league due to repeated injury. I wasn’t aware of Borland’s history of concussion and his retirement came as quite a surprise. I’m trying to recall the %age of retired NFL players who now have some sort of permanently debilitating health issue as a result of playing the game but I believe it’s astoundingly well over 50%. Three other younger than normal NFL players also just retired over health concerns.

    This is a tough one… We knew all along that America’s game could leave the participants mangled physically, but the mental damage was only whispered about… Football offers rich rewards to the participants who make it to the elite level but this price they pay will spell the slow demise of an era and rightfully so. I don’t think there’s any way to protect the brain from trauma in this violent sport…

  4. I wouldn’t say much ado about nothing for the Niners, Al. Sure they didn’t win the big one but only one team a year does. They still made two NFC Championship games.

    And who was the doctor saying that CTE is overexaggerated? I’m sure the families of the deceased would love to have a work with him?

  5. Football has always been a violent sport but it has become much moreso because of the superb conditioning athletes have obtained through regimentation and year round workouts. Professional players are richly rewarded and understand the dangers. Attempts are being made to make better equipment lessening the occurrence and severity of injuries.

    It is at the much younger level of play that far greater effort must be made to teach proper tackling techniques, not to lead with the head but rather the shoulder in tackling. Coaches, if in doubt, must take the child out. Certain kids will advance to higher levels of play and hopefully will receive continued scrutiny as to safety regimens.

    But at every level of play, safety is the key issue if the survival of the sport that has become America’s national pastime is to survive.

  6. Chris

    Harbaugh lost control of the Niners last season and their complacency was there for all to see . Add in his handling of the issues with Aldon Smith and Ray McDonald and you have an ongoing recipe for disaster.

    Your thoughts on the game between the Knicks and Timberwolves , the two worst teams in the NBA this season ? Watching paint dry would have have been far more exciting than that contest .

    The idiot making claims concerning CTE simply proving next to an ambulance chasing lawyer , the lowest form of pond scum or fecal matter happens to a politician or a medical professional in the paid service of a major pharmaceutical company or in this case the NFL . How many times over the years did we hear Goodell state there was no cause and effect between traumatic brain injuries and the game of football(NFL) ? Then all of a sudden we find out the league (NFL) hid a great deal of their results and research from the public and lied about it all.

    First major upset of the NCAA Tournament . What’s on tap next ?

    Thoughts on Jim Boeheim and his ongoing problems concerning Syracuse ? He intends to appeal any sanctions likely to levied against the program , beyond his desire to close out his career there , by coaching another three years with the Orangemen . Problematical for them as of now or do you see it as a positive ? Allegations are said to very serious _ with the basketball program under investigation by the NCAA .

  7. Harbaugh’s gone and now the Niners will begin anew, Al.

    Why would you watch Knicks-T’Wolves when you have all this glorious college basketball to watch?

    Re: Boeheim, I’m assuming he’ll take his three years left to ensure he leaves a clean program to his successor.

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