Fear of Concussions Sidelines 49ers' Chris Borland

Chris Borland fears potential future concussions.
Chris Borland fears potential future concussions.

MANHASSET, NY -- San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland will retire from the NFL after only one season due to concerns he could be adversely impacted by concussions, according to a recent interview with ESPN.

After taking over a starting role on the team in the second half of the season, the rookie posted 102 tackles, two interceptions and a sack. Despite what many saw as a promising beginning to his career, Borland chose to retire abruptly, fearing that the health costs of concussions outweighed the chance to become a star.

"I'm concerned that if you wait until you have symptoms, it's too late,” Borland told ESPN.

Jamie Ullman, MD, director of neurotrauma at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset believes part of the problem with concussions is how difficult it is to measure their impact on the brain.

 “This is a lot of brain damage that you can’t see on any imaging study,” Dr. Ullman said. “It’s really basically a chemical imbalance of nerves and the way chemicals are being shunted in and out of nerve cells within the brain.

”We don’t know how many concussions it takes for anyone [to experience permanent brain damage], if they are susceptible to developing long-term complications.”

According to PBS Frontline’s report on concussions, “League of Denial: the NFL’s Concussion Crisis,” there may be a link between concussions on the football field and mental disorders later in life. According to the program, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ brain repository discovered that 76 out of the 79 former players examined tested positively for chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

A condition that can only be diagnosed posthumously, CTE wreaks havoc on a person’s memory and behavior. Dr. Ullman said CTE is tied to memory loss and early-onset dementia, mimicking some of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, CTE can lead to aggressive and impulsive behavior, and even depression and suicidal thoughts.

Even more dangerous, CTE does not manifest itself until eight to 10 years after the head trauma occurred and has no known cure. As Mr. Borland feared, by the time symptoms begin to occur, there may not be much a person can do.

“I think there is now heightened awareness among football players that sustaining a concussion during a very high-risk profession, such as professional football, can put you at risk for developing long-term complications such as CTE,” Dr. Ullman said. “I don’t blame them for thinking about this potential occupational hazard for them.”

Other ways to protect against long-term concussion effects are to be wary of “second impact syndrome,” and to conduct a concussion test to make sure players are really ready to get back on the field.

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