This is a quick Salon interview with Dave Zirin about the NFL-Media Industrial Complex and its overreaction to the retirement of one player. 49ers linebacker Chris Borland retired last week after only one season citing concerns for his health based on the mounting evidence that pro football can cause severe brain trauma. Zirin is asked to comment on the paranoid response.
Some very big names in the NFL’s media universe were critical. I don’t really get it, to be honest; why do they care if he plays football or not?If you're not chasing the money and glory, even at the potential expense of your own mental health, well then you clearly must have some sort of mental health problem.
I communicated with Chris Borland this morning; we exchanged emails. He was truly, truly stunned that this was as big a story as it was. To him, it was like, second-year player decides not to play football because he’s concerned about concussions— why is this a big story? Everybody is concerned about concussions. Especially since you have had other young players leave the game this off-season, he thought he was going to be one of a group that was doing this. The difference between Chris and these other folks is that these other folks had already suffered real injury before their 30th birthday. With Chris, it also has to do with the situation in San Francisco, where he really had a shot at superstardom. The 49ers linebacker core was depleted, he had a very promising rookie year, and they were going to put him in a position to be a Pro-Bowler and a star but he decided that he did not want that.
The thing I kept thinking about was Dave Chappelle, because when Dave Chappelle walked away from tens of millions of dollars from Comedy Central everybody was saying he was completely crazy, like, literally mentally imbalanced. A friend of mine said to me, we always wonder in this country why everybody’s all about the money but when somebody shows he’s not all about the money he gets mocked for it. I was thinking about Dave Chappelle with Borland, because isn’t this what we always say we want for people? How often have you heard people about the fact that schoolteachers and firefighters aren’t role models but athletes are? Why do we put so much worth on them just because they perform for millions of dollars? Here’s somebody who walks away from that money and that celebrity— which is like the nobility of the 21st century— and the response has been, what’s wrong with him?