The NFL is known to be a copycat league, but the latest trend has nothing to do with defensive schemes or touchdown dances. Rather, it’s all about self-preservation.
Adrian Coxson, a 24-year-old former Green Bay Packer, joined two other young players, Chris Borland and Anthony Davis, in early retirement after suffering a Grade 3 concussion on the third day of training camp. Coxson, an undrafted free agent, was afraid that the “next hit to my head could possibly kill me or be life-damaging,” as reported by the National Football Post.
Coxson’s announcement comes just days after Wisconsin safety Mike Caputo was seen lining up on the wrong side of the field after a hard hit to the head during a game against Alabama; six months after Borland rocked the NFL with his decision to end his promising career with the San Francisco 49ers early due to concussion concerns; and a few months before the Will Smith movie Concussion premieres, in which Smith plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, the doctor who first discovered Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerative brain disease found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma.
As much as the NFL would like it to, talk about concussions won’t go away. Nor should it. Dr. David Geier of The Post and Courier reports that evidence of CTE — which has been linked to depression, suicide, and memory loss — has been found in the brains of 87 out of the 91 dead NFL players who were examined by the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. Research is showing that the big hits aren’t the only ones that do damage; rather, brain damage can be caused by the tens of thousands of repetitive hits, even those deemed “safe,” that football players encounter in their careers.
Although the rhetoric in football has always been to “tough it out,” more and more men are choosing their health over their careers.
“I’m retiring because I’m still having (concussion) symptoms, and my health is more important to me than the game of football,” Coxson told the National Football Post on Monday, five weeks after he was taken off of the training camp field in an ambulance, and three weeks after he was cut from the Packers for “failure to disclose physical condition.” As a result, Coxson said, “it’s been recommended to me by two neurologists and two doctors to retire from football.”
The most high-profile NFL retirement thus far has been Borland’s. Not only was he a star linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers who retired after a promising rookie season, but he did his homework and formed a bond with Outside The Line’s Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, the men behind the documentary League of Denial, which was instrumental in bringing the NFL’s concussion problem to light.
Borland has been very outspoken about his fear of brain damage, and particularly willing to speak out against the violent culture of the NFL.
“People make the analogy to war a lot, and I have two brothers in the Army,” Borland said, as reported by Fainuru and Fainuru-Wada in an ESPN Magazine feature last month. “Getting a TBI [traumatic brain injury] and having post-traumatic stress from war, well, that’s a more important cause. Football is an elective. It’s a game. It’s make-believe. And to think that people have brain damage from some made-up game. The meaninglessness of it, you draw the line at brain damage.”
Just weeks after Borland’s retirement — which he announced on OTL and immediately linked to the fear of a lasting brain injury — University of Michigan lineman Jack Miller announced that he was forgoing his final year of eligibility due to his concerns about concussions.
“I know I’ve had a few (concussions) and it’s nice walking away before things could’ve gotten worse,” Miller told ESPN. “And yes, multiple schools have reached out. But I’m ready to walk away from it. My health and happiness is more important than a game.”
A couple of months later, another 49ers linebacker, 25-year-old Anthony Davis, decided to take a temporary retirement and sit out this year in order to “allow my Brain and Body (sic) a chance to heal.”
Borland claims that he’s not interested in fighting the NFL, but is speaking out in hopes that his story helps former players, current players, and future players. While none of the subsequent retirement announcements have specifically mentioned Borland, he is looking more and more like a trailblazer.
“I think in the eyes of a lot of circles, especially within football, I’m the soft guy,” Borland said. “But I’m fine with being the soft, healthy guy.”
It’s clear that these days, Borland isn’t alone in that line of thinking.