Do Early Football Retirements Dim Prospects for the Sport's Future?
Earlier this month, San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland told ESPN's "Outside the Lines" that fears over long-term head trauma convinced him to retire after just one season in the NFL.
"I just honestly want to do what's best for my health," Borland told OTL. "From what I've researched and what I've experienced, I don't think it's worth the risk."
One week later, former Michigan offensive lineman Jack Miller followed in Borland's footsteps, telling ESPN.com's Joe Schad his recently announced decision to walk away from football was partially due to concern about the long-term impact of previous and future concussions.
"I know I've had a few and it's nice walking away before things could've gotten worse," Miller told Schad. "And yes, multiple schools have reached out. But I'm ready to walk away from it. My health and happiness is more important than a game."
He also wasn't ready to say whether he'd allow a future son of his to play football.
"Football has taught me so much about life, it's incredible how much I've learned from it," he told Schad. "That's why my dad ultimately wanted me to play the game at a young age, then we found out I was good. But is it worth the potential injury? Really tough call."
In a recent conversation with The MMQB's Peter King, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell addressed whether the league was concerned about Borland's decision, in particular, being a harbinger of things to come in terms of players leaving the game earlier than anticipated.
"Players are making the decision whether to play or not play every day," Goodell said. "They'll be making it for a variety of reasons—injury, career...If they have all the facts and are making a personal judgment, you have to respect that. People are going to make those decisions based on, we hope, facts and whatever their personal judgment is."
The New York Times' editorial board, meanwhile, believes "parents of the hundreds of thousands of youngsters eager to play each year at the peewee, high school and college levels" should take note of Borland's decision to retire early. The board cited a study published January in the journal Neurology, which found former NFL players who began playing tackle football before the age of 12 to fare worse as adults in terms of executive function, memory, and estimated verbal IQ compared to those who began playing tackle football later.
An Associated Press-GfK poll from September found 44 percent of parents were not comfortable with the idea of their children playing football. Only five percent of parents had actually discouraged their children from playing football in the past two years, however.
It remains to be seen whether the early retirements of Borland, Miller, and others begin to sway more parents toward dissuading their children from playing football. As Goodell said, however, people will make those decisions based on "facts" and "personal judgment." Given the wealth of information that has surfaced over the past few years regarding concussions and the risks of long-term head trauma, this generation of football players has more facts than ever to sift through.
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