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Money, Fame, Traumatic Brain Injury...NO THANKS!

On March 16th, the San Francisco 49er's star rookie, Chris Borland, shocked his team, the NFL, and much of the country by announcing his retirement from the sport in which he was already becoming an all-star. Borland, 24, said that in making his decision he consulted with researchers who shared their data on the health risks of head injuries in pro football. The current data shows that over one-third of NFL players end up suffering from Alzheimer's or dementia, with cognitive problems emerging at a younger age than most people. Over seventy former NFL players have been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. CTE can lead to aggressive and violent behavior, and to devastating depression. Several former NFL players diagnosed posthumously have committed suicide, including Junior Seau in 2012. New research now shows that concussions are not the only source of these traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), but that the frequency of sub-concussive blows appears to play a major part in TBI and future cognitive impairment.

Borland chose to leave the game while he was still healthy and as "sharp as he has ever been." In doing so he walked away from what in all likelihood would be a multimillion dollar career. But Borland is not the only young player to quit the game recently; three other players age 30 and under voluntarily retired in the past month alone. Although these players cited varying reasons for their early departures from the sport, the increased awareness of concussions and the risks that TBIs pose for future health and cognition may be affecting players' willingness to stay in the game.


From sports outlets to mainstream news, writers across the spectrum reported their shock at fans' support on social media for Borland's decision. One writer analyzed the support of the fans for Borland's decision to mean that "even fans" understand that pro-football--and possibly any football--causes head trauma at possibly unacceptable levels if someone who is healthy and 24 is willing to walk away at the prime of his career from millions of dollars.

The shocking reaction may more correctly be that of the writers. Borland, and the other three players who retired early in the past month, are Millennials, and as studies have shown, Millennials tend to value health and happiness over money and material goods. While money and fame may have driven athletes of a previous generation to ignore the aches and pains--and possible warning signs--of their sport, this new generation of athletes may not be so easily swayed. Furthermore, the evidence of TBI and its future effects is now established--so much so that "even fans" know it. The writers under-estimated their audience.


Perhaps the reactions to worry about are those of parents. After all, many NFL players were once little league players. But there is new reason for parents to worry; in a study published this year, former NFL players who played tackle football before age 12 were found to have greater declines in memory and mental agility. This is because repeated head trauma suffered while the brain is still developing has been linked to long-term problems with memory and cognitive function.

All of the above helps to explain why 50% of parents when polled by Bloomberg Politics said they would not want their son to play football; 43% said they would. The real game changer, then, is not the effect of Borland's retirement on the NFL or the fans, but on parents: will the increasing evidence of traumatic brain injury lead to a smaller pool of prospective NFL players?


If you or your child participates in a sport and has suffered a traumatic brain injury (a concussion), contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free evaluation of your legal rights.

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