Sports Ethics Minute: Chris Borland and the Ethical Truth

Chris Borland“I just honestly want to do what’s best for my health. From what I’ve researched and what I’ve experienced, I don’t think it’s worth the risk.” – Chris Borland

Chris Borland, 24 years old, has made the decision to walk away from professional football. He is worried about head trauma and where the head injuries might lead him.

He is not retiring because he can’t play the game; in his rookie season the LB had 108 tackles, a sack and two interceptions. He is not retiring because of bullying or a lack of playing time or because he doesn’t get along with his players or coaches. By all accounts he is respected and liked.

He is not retiring because he won the lottery and has no use for the nearly $700,000 he was going to make this season. He is retiring because he wants to do so, and I think that scares the hell out of some people.

This morning I heard a sports commentator, a guy who has never played sports beyond middle school, contemplate that football doesn’t care if Borland retires or not, and that the game has nothing to worry about. He may be completely correct; football will go on and Borland will be soon forgotten. However, it’s not the commentator’s body that is in question here; it is Borland’s and he has made a decision for himself.

The commentator also knows what many of us mere fans know: whole industries, layers and layers of industries, have bubbled up around the NFL. It does not take us long to realize that if a mass exodus of players were to occur, a lot of people would be out of work.

Will this mass exodus take place? I doubt it. Might the game radically change? I would not bet against it.

The future of football is not about whether or not the players and fans love the game; it is about whether the game is doing all it can to protect the players. Does the game love them back? Borland does not feel protected. It is his right.

What is known versus what is told

The NFL is an incredibly wealthy, incredibly successful organization. It takes in enough money to pay its commissioner about $40 million per year. Though the NFL may bend under the weight of scandal from time to time, it is remarkably resilient. The NFL is aware that Americans (and many more tens of millions throughout the world), love the game. It has a pageantry, and an athleticism and a link to our very spirit. The NFL makes its owners billions of dollars each year. They could care less about the few hundred thousand Borland is leaving on the table.

However, as someone who cares about sports ethics I want to know what the NFL knows. None of my business? Then what is being hidden?

We are told that there are new programs and new protocols and new equipment designs that are making the game “safer.” We are told the NFL is taking head trauma very seriously. We are told that at no point in the history of professional football has the game been as safe as it is now. So why did Borland walk away?

What does the NFL know that we don’t know? It is an innocent, simple question from a fan who also cares deeply about sports ethics.

What information in their vast archives of medical information will tell me what I need to hear?

Will you tell me the game has now been rendered safe? Will you tell me your research has identified that individuals with certain skull types should never play football? Will you tell me that the pathology overwhelmingly shows that a certain percentage of players will always develop dementia from the head trauma?

Maybe the question is not so much one of why Borland walked away, but why no one tried to stop him.





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