The NFL and Brains

So recently three young men called it quits on their NFL careers at ages I don’t quite remember: Jake Locker (26), Jason Worilds (27) and the youngest of the three Chris Borland (24).  Each with their own reason to leave the game and each leaving millions of dollars on the table: Locker (lack of desire to play), Worilds (religious reasons) and Borland (fear of concussions).

It’s that fear of concussions, the dirty word the NFL is so worried of getting out.  After the deaths of several noteable former players including Mike Webster and Junior Seau who died from self inflicted wounds much talk has centered on chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE.  CTE is caused by repetitive blows to the head and many times if you watch those old NFL Films clips from the 60s and 70s you can see the linemen swatting each other and then someone will no doubt wallop another across the head.  It’s said that people with CTE get dementia and forget things because their brain tissue is so damaged and there is so much of an uncommon protein called tau built up in the tissue.  

So if you think about it it’s kinda like physics class where you learned about Newton’s laws of motion, or at least I sorta did (as much as I love football someone should have told me this all related!).  The whole object in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by another force thing? Yeah basically it means the running back will keeping going until he gets blown up by the linebacker. Yay physics! 

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction?  Ah yes my favorite, when the lineman hits the center with his big mitts and the center has himself set and fires back, in the words of legendary John Madden “Boom!”  More physics!  Who knew Newton would be a football fan?  

Then there’s this next one which explains why you see big hits at the line when a backer charges in and destroys a back or wipes out a quarterback: Force=mass*acceleration. But Mr. Ghost of Red Grange you say “how does this all relate?”  Well I’ll tell you.  A 245 LB guy running at full speed hits a 220 RB  not moving, who has more force?  Why, check your equation and see the guy who is bigger and running faster is exerting more force.  Now that’s not to say the smaller guy doesn’t know how to dish out punishment too.  He still exerts force on the linebacker and at some point someone will give.

Now think about that linebacker, Chris Borland.  Much like old vehicles with big metal frames cars used to roll heavily into each other and just smash.  People say “they don’t make ’em like they used to it ” and while I see it I get it. 

The lighter cars with plastic reinforced scientifically tested bodies might dent a bit easier and maybe your bumper comes off easier but it’s meant so that the car absorbs the impact and disperses it. The old cars just took the full weight of the crash like a wrecking ball.

So what does a plastic bumper have to do with Chris Borland you ask?  Plenty.  The only thing between his head and someone wanting to rip it off is a plastic helmet.  But we are getting better.  Bravo to him for choosing his own decision while he could.  Using his brain before it got scrambled by Newton’s laws.  If only because we heard Newton cheering us on.