For the first time, I seriously wonder about the future of football.
There have been suggestions from outside the game, and a few from inside, that the sport is proving to be too dangerous, participation will slowly erode, interest will wane, and the game eventually will fade away.
Given the current state of football, it’s incredible popularity, and hundred billion dollar finances, I have, until now, dismissed that argument without much consideration of its merits.
Yesterday’s announcement by 49ers linebacker Chris Borland, where he said he is retiring because the health risks of playing football are just “not worth it,” has me rethinking the future of football.
Borland is the epitome of a football player, a tough, hard-nosed guy, extremely dedicated to the game, and has been since he was just a kid.
Undersized and not very fast at his linebacker position, his motor always revved at maximum RPM. He wanted to make every tackle, and he did make most of them. Borland had a strong rookie season for the 49ers, taking a starting role because of injuries to other players about midway through the year, and establishing himself as one of the rising stars in the NFL.
Surely, the 49ers had big plans for Borland, and if he continued to play at last year’s high level he would have made tens millions of dollars in his career.
Instead, he quit.
Borland told ESPN, which first reported his retirement Monday night, he studied football injuries, especially concussions and head trauma, and he decided he didn’t want to risk his future health playing the game. A few other NFL players have made similar decisions lately, and more might follow, but I doubt we will see any difference in the game in the near future.
However, as more players and parents of the youngest players look, as Borland did, at the risks involved in the sport, I wonder if football can hold onto its lofty status as America’s number one game.
For the record, the NFL issued a statement in response to Borland’s retirement saying football has never been safer.