Concussions are one of the biggest recurring health issues in the NFL and the most talked about because of how detrimental the injury can be to a football player’s mental wellness in the long run.
With new information available about the conditions stemming from concussions, such as CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), this question often comes up for a player: when does the risk of playing the game I love start to outweigh the passion I have for football?
Many players have answered that question by retiring from the game early leaving millions of dollars and promising careers on the table. In 2015, former San Francisco 49ers middle linebacker Chris Borland retired at the age of 24 years old after an incredible rookie season because he feared the possibility of suffering serious brain damage.
— ESPN (@espn) August 21, 2015
For Borland the decision was clear: the immediate gratification of playing football wasn’t worth the potential serious, long term health problems associated with hard hits to the head.
But for many other players the answer is multitudes more complicated. John Urschel, an offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens, is a prime example of a player being pulled in one direction by his love of football and another because of the risk of head injuries.
The looming possibility of brain damage is perhaps even more frightening for Urschel because off the field he is a highly skilled mathematician, pursuing his Ph.D. at MIT. HBO’s Real Sports did a segment on Urschel talking in depth about his talent on the football field, his gifted brain and the incident that brought the concussion dilemma into reality for him.
In August 2015, Urschel suffered a helmet-to-helmet hit, resulting in a concussion. The injury hindered his ability to visualize the mathematical equations and theories that came so naturally to him before. He said in the video that it took him three weeks to be “football-ready,” but it took longer before his “high-level visualization abilities came back.”
As it pertains to playing football, Borland made the safe decision in retiring, while Urschel is taking the riskier path. As long as football remains inherently violent, especially to the head region, NFL players will be forced to navigate their own path in the difficult balance of love versus livelihood.
Urschel, however, isn’t going to let the fear of injury stop him from living his two passions.
“I recognize that this is somewhat irrational, but I’m doing it,” Urschel said in the video. “It’s more important to me that I’m able to do the two things I love…but I enjoy carving my own path and not listening to what people say I can and can’t do.”