Some of my saddest sports memories surround superstars who succumbed to some sort of injury well before they reached their athletic expiration date. For example, my boyhood hero Eric Lindros was the NHL MVP and great Canadian hope for Philadelphia Flyers glory. His problem? Frequent concussions that forced him to end his career early. Thanks a lot, Scott Stevens – your hit ruined the Flyers dreams of a Stanley Cup and helped hasten the hockey decline of Lindros.
Given my memories of sports stars and injuries, I found it interesting that two players on high-profile football teams have recently retired over concussion concerns. But these men are not over-the-hill, half-crippled shells of their former selves. One is Chris Borland, a 24 year-old player who just finished a very successful rookie season for the San Francisco 49ers. The other is Jack Miller, the University of Michigan’s lineman of the year. Certainly the concussion issue has been at the fore for the NFL and NCAA (especially the University of Michigan) and The Jesuit Post’s own Chris Schroeder has weighed in on this serious issue.
What impresses me about Borland and Miller is not that they are trying to be safe or trying to secure their health before it is too late. I’m impressed by their freedom and assertiveness. In no way do I hear fear or frustration or frantically finding another way to live. I hear clarity, proper perspective, and balance between goods – football and health.
Borland: “From what I’ve researched and what I’ve experienced, I don’t think it’s worth the risk… I just thought to myself, ‘What am I doing? Is this how I’m going to live my adult life, banging my head, especially with what I’ve learned and know about the dangers?'”
Miller: “I know I’ve had a few [concussions] and it’s nice walking away before things could’ve gotten worse… 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.”
Choosing between two good things is tremendously difficult. These men grew up with the game and found great joy in it. They felt the rush of game day preparations and of suiting up. They battled with their teammates. They experienced the emotional catharsis that sports offers someone going through tough times. But they can also see clearly their own health needs and the way other football players have ended up.
How to figure out a decision between two goods? That’s when we need to ask for clarity and wisdom to see the two good things before us and to boldly and freely choose what we desire most. For these men, it’s to walk away from a source of tremendous joy (football) in order to experience a different, deeper joy (improved health prospects).
Playing football is good. Retiring from football is good. Making the decision to stay or go in a spirit of interior freedom is better.
Cover image “Retirement” by Simon Cunningham, courtesy Flickr Creative Commons, found here.