Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Mike Borland, Michaël Bournival again bring attention to the risks of concussion.

I understand the Michaël Bournival situation, where he had some dizziness but tried to play through it. Maybe he thought it was ‘mild’, or that is was almost gone. Maybe he’d done this before, had the dizziness, and it did go away, and he thought it would again.

Aside from the concerns about his spot on the team, his place in the roster, there’s also the fact that the default setting for men is to usually wait until something is about to fall off before we go see our doctor. We’re trained from an early age to not whine, to ‘man up’, to play or work through pain-discomfort, and that things that hurt usually get better on their own when you wait long enough.

Even today, with all we know about concussions, all that athletes are taught about their signs and the risks involved, we’ll have them hide symptoms from doctors or team officials, or deny it to themselves that they are important enough that they should self-report. Tomorrow will be a better day.

Last season, we saw the Kansas City Chiefs’ Jamaal Charles admit that he avoided team doctors, almost ran from them on the sidelines during a game against the Chargers, after a collision with Brandon Flowers at the goal line had left both shaken. He said that while he was dazed and “saw stars” after the hit, he “felt fine”, and didn’t want to come out of the game.

And then there’s the other side, the other option, which is what the 49’ers Chris Borland chose. At 24, and after a great rookie season with the 49’ers, one which gave the team hope that he could palliate the loss of All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis, Mr. Borland has decided to retire ‘preemptively’.

Chris Borland is by all accounts a smart kid, he intends to return to school to continue his studies, and eventually get into sports management. It weighed heavily on him that he’d suffered two previous diagnosed concussions, and had symptoms in training camp last season. He’d read about the famous cases of CTE among the former NFL players.

And he’s not the first prominent 49’er to retire as a precaution, before he incurred too much damage that might hamper his life and career after football. In the eighties, tight end John Frank retired midway into a promising career to enter medical school fulltime. I remember reading the article in Sports Illustrated as a young man, flabbergasted that he would walk away from the riches and fame of the NFL, but being persuaded by his arguments, how he worried that he might damage his hands and be unable to achieve his dream/goal of becoming a surgeon.

One unspoken point here is that Chris Borland was locked into a ‘rookie contract’ for another three seasons. He seems to be genuine about his wish to avoid lasting consequences, but he took his time deliberating the decision, did his research. You have to wonder how the entry-level deals that NFL players have to endure will dissuade a few more players from entering or remaining in the meat-grinder that is the NFL.

So many players suffer injuries and wash out of the league before they can have success. The risk-reward equation is seriously tilted when a player can’t renegotiate his contract to reflect his value to the team beyond what it was at the draft, as a fourth-round pick. Financial security is a desirable state to be in, but playing football for $500 000 or so may not represent that to a few players, realistic as they are when evaluating their odds of lasting long enough to earn a second contract.

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