The Beginning of the End of the National Football League? The Answer is No.
Yet, you have seen this question contemplated by various media outlets over the past week following the early retirement of several National Football League (NFL) players. They point to the retirement of four, under the age of 30, who decided to end their football careers.
The most recent is Chris Borland, a rookie linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers last season. After research and conversations with retired players, Borland decided the risks of continuing to play the game of football outweighed the benefits. Borland, age 24, was set to earn just north of $500,000 in 2015.
With more information and access to medical research, NFL careers may not last as long as in previous years. That’s ok.
Into the 1960’s, NFL players still held off season jobs. During the off season of 1961, Hall of Fame defensive end Willie Davis taught school. Jim Brown, Hall of Fame running back and one of the highest paid players during his final NFL season, worked for Pepsi-Cola during his off season.
Salaries necessitated the need for secondary employment, but what it did was prepare NFL players for life after football. Keep in mind, “old” in football playing years still means a retired NFL player enters the next stage of his life and career in his late 20’s or 30’s.
Salaries in today’s NFL all but eliminate the need to hold down an off season job. Gaining that valuable experience now would be extremely challenging due largely to the duration of the off season.
With a 16 game regular season and conditioning programs and organized team activities (OTAs) beginning as early as March, a player has less and less time away from football.
ESPN College Football analyst Kirk Herbstreit tweeted that guys will ‘obviously’ continue to play football. But Herbstreit added that Borland’s retirement will get the attention of ‘a lot of Moms and youth football’.
For every player who makes the decision to retire early due to injury concerns, there are untold numbers of young men ready to assume the risks. This is why the NFL will continue. It will continue in its popularity, among fans and players, and in its revenue generation.
These decisions to retire early are personal – for the player and his family. And with all of the information and increasing attention paid to the safety of those who play the game, today’s players have the benefit of making an informed one. A luxury not enjoyed by the generations before them.
Information, not fear, needs to drive the decision to play or not to play the game of football.
And whether or not to approach the game of professional football as a career.
I respect Chris Borland for his decision and I wish him well. And I hope that anyone considering putting on a helmet, for the first or last time, takes the time to consider all the information and research available to them. It beats letting fear, and fear alone, drive fans and players away from one of the greatest games we enjoy in this country.