Brain injuries: Why Chris Borland quit the NFL

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NFL brain injuries, offensive line

Christians celebrate Sundays as “The Lord’s Day.” It’s a day (that is supposed to be) set aside from all others. We honor Sundays as special because we believe Jesus Christ rose from the dead on such a day. In the United States, this coming Sunday is special for another reason. It will be the day on which the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers face off in Super Bowl LIV. People are gearing up. They’re making plans to gather with friends and family. Everyone’s talking about the commercials that will air and who will perform at the half-time show. People are writing out grocery lists for elaborate snacks and indoor-style tailgate foods. There’s one topic, however, that no one wants to talk about: NFL brain injuries. Chris Borland, former linebacker for the 49ers talks about it, though. In fact, it’s the reason he quit playing professional football.

At age 24, Borland was touted as one of the most promising players in the National Football League. His announcement to ESPN reporters that he was permanently leaving the game shocked football enthusiasts, players and coaches everywhere. His reason? He wants to avoid brain injuries, and he said playing in the NFL isn’t worth it. Borland courageously spoke out, telling reporters that he was choosing to place brain health over fame and fortune.

Not an easy decision, I’m sure

During his first NFL training camp, Borland suffered head trauma. He says he wanted so much to make the team, however, that he did not walk off the field. Like many do, Borland kept playing because he was hoping to earn a spot on the San Francisco 49ers’ team. He succeeded.

To be a 24-year-old man in a starting position on an NFL team that has won five Super Bowls is amazing on several levels. The skill, effort, consistent success and motivation it takes to get there is nothing short of commendable. Most people are aware of the amount of money star NFL players can earn. Anyone want to be a 24-year-old millionaire? Aaron Hernandez was a 27-year-old millionaire. Sadly, he committed suicide in a jail cell. The neuropathologist who examined his brain said his chronic traumatic encephalopathy injuries were more severe than any she had ever seen in a person his age.

Playing through injuries

Chris Borland says he remembers wondering what he was doing when he pushed through the pain and confusion of a suspected concussion to keep playing during that training camp. He describes thinking ahead to the future, wondering how many times he would bang his head and suffer brain injury but keep playing. He reportedly had only played four games in the NFL when he confided in his parents, telling them he knew he wouldn’t be staying in the league for long.

Borland is one of many people who knew Aaron Hernandez, and spoke about CTE in a Netflix documentary called, “Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez.” He says he (Borland) decided to get out while his brain was still healthy. He thoroughly researched CTE, speaking to scientists, doctors, former NFL players and more. He decided that his brain health was more important than anything the NFL could ever offer him.

Former NFL players have sued the league because of brain injuries

I’ve written about CTE before on Hot Mess Press. Since watching Will Smith’s movie, “Concussion,” I have never watched another NFL game. Thousands of players have filed lawsuits against the league for failing to protect them against brain injury. In the Hernandez documentary, numerous players say there is an unspoken rule in the NFL: Play through the pain. Players receive injections, swallow pills and do whatever is necessary to numb their pain so they can play while injured. For what? Money? Excitement? Job security?

You might be among those who say that football players often know the dangers of CTE ahead of time. They choose to play. I wonder, though, how much seduction goes into such choices? Promises of fame, millions of dollars, ability to take care of their families who are of meager means, etc., leads many players to push thoughts of brain injuries to a back burner. Former super stars in the NFL like Junior Seau and Mike Webster are dead. Is playing football worth dying for? Out of 111 deceased NFL players’ brains that were examined, 110 of them showed signs of CTE.

Brain injuries last long after football is over

A defensive player for the San Diego Chargers was knocked out cold after the first play in a game. It’s logical to assume that a coach would remove a player who lies unconscious on the field from the rest of the game. In this case, the player stayed in all four quarters, and showed signs of brain injuries by the end of the game. He took a hit and his body began jerking in a seizure-like fashion. He struggled to take steps to stand upright. According to the science behind CTE injuries, this player and others like him are likely to suffer poor health for the rest of their lives. In fact, their lives may be cut short.

CTE causes headaches in its earliest stages. NFl players with brain injuries may have trouble concentrating or experience memory loss. As the disease progresses, symptoms worsen. Impulsiveness, mood swings, depression, aggression and high risk of suicide become prevalent. Mike Webster pulled out his own teeth. Aaron Hernandez committed murder. Victims of CTE often show signs of insanity. Their brains degenerate. Clumps of Tau protein start spreading and killing brain cells. On the outside, the men appear normal. In fact, their brains typically scan normally. The disease often remains un-diagnosed until after they die.

Brain injuries are avoidable when it comes to football

People in military combat are at risk to contract CTE, as well. However, playing football is a bit different than serving one’s country; don’t you think? Yes, it’s an exciting game to watch or play. Many liken it to poetry in motion. It’s thrilling to watch talented players exhibit swift, agile movements, crossing the field at great speeds, working their way to the end zone. I wonder if we’d feel the same way if we could see pictures of the players’ brains while they play.

Super Bowl Sunday 2020 is almost upon us. I won’t be watching, and now, you know why.




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