Borland’s Retirement Emphasizes Football’s Glaring Problem


Nov 23, 2014; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers inside linebacker Chris Borland (50) stands on the field against the Washington Redskins in the fourth quarter at Levi

My son is a football coach’s dream come true. Ever since the day he was born, he has been in the 99th percentile for both weight and height. He is about four inches taller than most kids his age, and he weighs about 20 pounds more than those same kids. He is as strong as an ox. Like I said, he is a football coach’s dream come true. He could excel at the sport. There is just one problem.

I am not encouraging him to play.

We were reminded again that football has a serious dilemma on its hand with the retirement of Chris Borland, a 49ers linebacker who only played one year due to concerns about suffering repetitive head trauma. This comes on the heels of the retirement of former Ole Miss great and 49ers star Patrick Willis who also retired due to concerns that the toll the game has taken won’t allow him to play at an elite level. Willis is only 30 years old. With more and more information being revealed over time that playing football can cause a severe decline in the quality of life of the people who played it, and in some instances shorten their lives, I can’t in good conscience encourage my son to play football.

I love football. It has brought me a lot of joy over the years. There are very few things in life I look forward to as much as I do Saturdays in the Fall to pull for Mississippi State. And if my son ever asked if he could play, my wife and I would certainly talk about it, and we would most likely allow him to do so. I just don’t want to be the reason he starts.

If you are encouraging your son to play the game, I’m not calling you a bad parent. There are plenty of positives the game can give. My wife’s sister and brother-in-law have encouraged their son to play football, and he has excelled at the sport. His success on the field has led to an increased confidence in all that he does. So there are plenty of reasons why it’s a good idea. I just don’t like the risk.

As time has marched on, there are more and more parents just like me. We grew up loving the game, but we just can’t bring ourselves to encourage our boys to play it. Kurt Warner is one of those. Football is a dangerous game to play. It takes more from its participants than any other sport we watch. One of football’s biggest problems is that any action taken to make the game safer makes it less appealing.

Whenever there are rule changes proposed or instituted that make the game safer, people make idiotic comments about making the players wear dresses or something similar. The reason they do this is simple. The violence is part of the appeal. So taking away some of the violence makes the game less attractive to the average football fan. But the game is going to change. It has to.

When I say things like that, people often recoil and say that it is too popular to change. My response is always that it already has.

The targeting rule was introduced in 2013 and it has already had a major impact on college football. Many people hate the rule because it is enforced so erratically. I don’t. Maybe they get some of the calls wrong, but most of them get overturned on replay if they aren’t correct. And even if someone gets called for it that shouldn’t, I’m all for erring on the side of caution despite the fact that it makes the player get ejected. In the NFL, roughing the passer is used so often that people start lashing out on Twitter whenever an official gets the call wrong, which happens a lot. Once again, I’m all for erring on the side of caution.

These changes are just the tip of the iceberg. There are going to be more. Troy Aikman once said he envisions there will be a time when football is played without putting a hand on the ground. They won’t be immediate, but they will come. The football we watch in 20 to 30 years from now will look much different than it does today. The NFL and NCAA won’t have a choice.

Their hand will be forced, not necessarily because of concern for player safety, but for the financial liability. There isn’t any doubt that football is as popular today as it ever has been. And as it continues to grow in popularity, the amount of money it makes will continue to grow. And as the cash cow gets fatter and fatter, more of the players who have suffered life altering injuries will continue to sue. Former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon led a group of retired players to sue the NFL last year because they claimed the team doctors gave them high risk drugs to numb the pain so they could stay on the field. This led them to suffer serious injuries that they are still feeling the affects of today. If the game doesn’t get safer, more and more of these lawsuits will continue to be filed. The argument the players knew what they were signing up for is irrelevant. We’ve already seen smokers hit the tobacco industry for large settlements even though there have been warnings about the health risks on the products themselves for years. The NFL and NCAA have to demonstrate that they are doing everything they can to protect their players or risk losing substantial amounts of profit.

There are some who think football might cease to exist at some point in the future. I don’t know that I am willing to go that far, but I can see why they think this way. I’ve already stated that the part of the appeal of the sport is the violence. As the violence diminishes, it is very conceivable many who watch it now will lose interest. Could interest in the sport drop to levels where it isn’t sustainable? Perhaps.

Until that day comes, you can look forward to the game we still love being played in the falls. I will still write about all the things you desire to know about our beloved Mississippi State Bulldogs. Enjoy it while it lasts. It may not be anything like the sport we know today twenty years from now.