More NFL Gladiators Choosing Health Over Wealth

The concussion crisis and pain of the game starting to sink in among some players

San Francisco 49ers inside linebacker Chris Borland (50) against the Oakland Raiders during an NFL game at O.com Coliseum in Oakland, Calif. on Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Zito)

(WTNH)  When it became clear, beyond dispute, beyond the NFL’s efforts to first sweep the issue under the rug and then minimize it, that playing football — especially NFL football — could well result in grave health problems burdening players for the rest of their lives…I thought the changes would be felt first in lowered fan interest.  I mean, who wants to watch and cheer as players take hits that could well give them Alzheimer’s by the time they’re 46?

I was completely wrong, at least so far.  Gauged by television ratings, America’s most popular sport has become more popular than ever even after the concussion risks became known.

Then I thought we’d see the impact in less participation in youth football.  If the damage from concussions can begin at any level of football, from pee-wee to college, what parents would let their son or daughter go out there to get conked in the head over and over?

Wrong again.  From what I’ve seen anecdotally, and what research there’s been, if fewer kids are going out for football, it’s hard to notice; and for what drop off there has been, concussion scares might be less to blame than the rise of sports like lacrosse (which also has a concussion issue, but never mind) and more specialization in one particular sport that’s not necessarily football by many young athletes.

What I didn’t see coming was that NFL players themselves would slowly begin rejecting the sport because of the health dangers.  It’s in the headlines today, after San Francisco 49er linebacker Chris Borland announced he was retiring because of the long-term effects of head trauma.  The 24-year-old rookie led his team in tackles last season, made a million dollars, and would soon be getting contracts offering many millions more–but he chose to walk away.  “I just want to do what’s best for my health,” Borland said.  “From what I’ve researched and what I’ve experienced, I don’t think it’s worth the risk.”

Borland’s decision comes on the heels of another 49er star retiring to save his body and mind.  All-pro linebacker Patrick Willis announced last week he’s quitting at age 30.  It wasn’t concussions, but injuries to his feet that forced his decision, Willis said, but the difference is academic: “I pay attention to guys when they’re finished playing, walking around like they’ve got no hips and they can’t play with their kids.  They can barely walk…People..don’t realize it’s because they played a few extra years.”

Several other young NFL stars and stars-to-be in their 20’s also announced retirements last week.  Whether this is the tipping point at which fan interest begins to wane over recognition of the sheer danger that’s part of their beloved sport…well, no more predictions from me.  And I’m hardly qualified to take the moral high ground.  Knowing the dangers, I let my then-12-year-old son play 7th grade football last season.  He was having a great year…until he got a concussion.  He says he plans on going out for 8th grade football next fall.  I honestly don’t know what to do.  Would love your input and thoughts below..

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