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The Kyle Files: NFL Players Choose Safety Over Legacy

by Kyle Kessell

The NFL season is just around the corner, and fans all over the country eagerly await to watch their team triumph. Fantasy football leagues are drafting, jerseys are being pulled out of the closets and stadiums are getting ready for the out pouring of anxious fans ready to cheer at the top of their lungs. But, for the players who have prepared their whole lives to play in these games, the risks might be greater than the reward.

Players such as David Burton Jr., Chris Borland, Calvin Johnson and A.J. Tarpley have all retired early citing health concerns as the main cause for retirement. Burton and Johnson both had careers lasting nearly a decade and played at a high level, but for Tarpley and Borland they were only beginning their careers. With more studies coming out linking football players to concussions, playing the game is just not worth the brain trauma or physical toll. Most recently, a study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association citing 110 out of 111 former players tested positive for CTE. That’s 99% of former players who have some sort of injury done to their brain, and as everyone knows, the brain is highly important when it comes to doing anything.

Let us not forget the players who have come before and who led the tragic way to bring light to the public on these issues. In the span of a couple of years, we lost three incredible athletes who chose to take their lives than to live any longer in pain because of brain related injuries caused through playing the game of football. Ray Easterling committed suicide, and an autopsy showed signs of CTE on his brain. Junior Seau and Dave Duerson both shot themselves in the chest so that their brains could be used in research for CTE studies.

Of course, we have only talked about the affects football can have on the brain, which is a subject that has been growing in popularity over the past few years, but we can see how hard the hits these players take any given Sunday. I have seen more gruesome leg injuries than I want to watch in my lifetime. I’ve seen players get rocked by a vicious hit and then watch their arms comatose while the lay motionless for the next five minutes. Even Ben Roethlisberger, a future hall of famer, considered retirement this off season because of the damage that has been done to his body in 13 years of playing.

We expect the brutality of the game, and for some, that’s what draws their attention. But, as we mature as a society, so does our lust for violence. We’ve come a long way from the way the NFL used to play; we’ve come a long way from the days of blood sports being held in the coliseum. If you watch old footage of games and witness the hits that players used to deliver, it will make any modern fan squint their eyes and suck the air through their teeth.

I know older fans lose interest in the sport as the rules change to favor a more pain free sport, but in the eyes of this fan, I’m all for watching a player get up and walk of the field of their own free will rather than hear the cries of agony as a player knows that not only is his day on the field over, but that he may not be the same for the rest of his life. I do not blame any football player retiring early for health reasons. It is not a weak or cowardly move to leave the sport. It is a human being valuing the quality of life they have after the fans stop cheering. Let us never stop cheering for anyone who put their body on the line for our own entertainment.

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