Is the 49ers Chris Borland announcing his retirement after one year in the NFL because he fears the health risks involved with playing football a huge change for the NFL or nothing at all?
How about both?
Look, it’s a big deal because it is something we are going to see more and more. Guys choosing not to play any more as they learn more about head injuries and CTE, or going into a different sport growing up will, absolutely, become more prevalent over the coming years. Given what we’ve watched with Dave Duerson, Junior Seau, Mike Webster and on and on, that is probably as it should be. At the same time, there will always be people willing to play the game, and it’s not losing popularity at all, despite this, spousal and child abuse, drug use, and all of the other junk that has gone on over the last few years.
This reminds me of something that I spent some time in High School researching as a project. The theory I espoused then, and had data to back up, was that kids who grew up poor were more likely to be professional athletes. I believed it was because kids with money had other options and didn’t commit to it as much as a kid who saw sports as his only way out of poverty. Look at Latin Americans and baseball for a perfect example of what I’m talking about, those kids dedicate their whole lives to getting a shot at being a professional in the US. Rich suburban kids, aren’t going to work that hard at it, in the aggregate.
It’s that same reality that will ensure there are always kids willing to play football, no matter how risky it appears to be. Professional football is a way to make big money, or it’s a way to get a scholarship to college when you normally wouldn’t have many opportunities to do either. How much would a kid in desperate poverty risk his health in order to get a shot at those things?
And, so long as there are kids willing to play, we’ll watch. The only reality that would change any of that is if the big money went away. I don’t see that happening any time soon, even if some kids who have other options, choose not to take the risks and play the game.