Sport concussions: NFL retirement may have knock-on effect
As a rookie American footballer walks
away from a multimillion-dollar contract after fears about
concussion, the $64 million question is: will rugby and other
sporting codes feel the knock-on effect?
Chris Borland was on course for a stellar career with the San
Francisco 49ers. The linebacker had a lucrative deal and rave
reviews, but a lingering concern about the dangers of his
"I don't think it's worth the risk," he said before quitting after
his debut year, aged 24. He is the fourth player under 30 to retire
in a week.
It is the latest milestone in the NFL's concussion battle. Last
year the league removed its $675m cap on damages for thousands of
They stemmed from the post-mortem examination of Mike Webster, a
former Pittsburgh Steelers centre, in 2002 and the allegation that
the NFL withheld medical knowledge from its players.
The link between sport and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE),
a degenerative brain condition normally associated with
"punch-drunk" boxers, is now accepted in the US, but many feel that
British sports are still burying banged heads in the sand.
Australian sporting codes have reacted to growing concern about
the effects of concussion.
The NRL last year introduced stricter guidelines, under which
players thought to have been knocked out must be assessed and
cleared by a doctor before being allowed to resume playing. The AFL
has similar rules in place, as does the ARU.
The case of George North sparked a debate in rugby when the Wales
wing played on against England last month despite suffering two
serious knocks to the head, one of which appeared to leave him
unconscious. The Wales medical staff admitted that they would have
removed North had they seen the second incident, but insisted that
they had followed the concussion protocols.
North was ambivalent about the risks, saying: "Super slow-motion
is good for arty-farty shots but not good for concussion. It's
rugby isn't it? It's not table tennis or tiddlywinks."
Borland, though, told ESPN: "From what I've researched and
experienced, I don't think it's worth the risk."
He had written to his parents after the fourth game of the season,
warning that his career may be a short one, citing the cases of
Dave Duerson and Ray Easterling, NFL players who committed suicide.
A former player, Nate Jackson, told The Times: "There is a
consensus that why an ex-player in his forties had dementia or
committed suicide is because of CTE."
Borland said: "To be the type of player I want to be in football,
I think I'd have to take on some risks that I don't want to take
He said that he had played through a concussion in pre-season
training because he wanted to make the team. Then he thought: "What
am I doing? Is this how I'm going to live my adult life, banging my
head, especially with what I've learnt about the dangers?"
The 49ers said that they were surprised by Borland's decision but
Dr Willie Stewart, who diagnosed the first case of brain damage
caused by rugby in 2013, said: "The current Six Nations has
averaged one concussion in every match and some people are now
asking if that level of injury is justifiable. There is an
assumption that brain injuries are different in different sports,
but that is not true. You can be exposed to as high a level of
brain injury in many other sports as in boxing."
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