CREDIT: (AP PHOTO/NATI HARNIK)
Two weeks after San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland made a high-profile exit from football after just one season because he feared the long-term damage of brain injuries, another football player has made the same choice. This time: University of Michigan offensive lineman Jack Miller, who said Wednesday that his decision to forgo his final year of eligibility is due in part to concussion concerns.
“I know I’ve had a few and it’s nice walking away before things could’ve gotten worse,”Miller told ESPN. “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.”
“I’d be lying if I said that the concussion thing doesn’t scare me a little,” he added.
Like Borland, who was among the top rookie linebackers in the NFL last season, Miller had found success in football. He started every game of the 2014 season and earned Michigan’s lineman of the year award.
And just like the NFL, college football and the NCAA have faced a fair share of scrutiny over the handling of concussions. Michigan, in fact, faced national criticism last season for putting quarterback Shane Long back in a game against Minnesota even though he suffered an apparent concussion. That decision contributed to the Big Ten conference’s decision to put independent monitors on sidelines this season to watch for players who suffer possible head injuries (the Big XII conference has made similar changes).
The NCAA, meanwhile, last year reached apreliminary settlement with former athletes who alleged that it, like the NFL, had not properly informed them of the risks of concussions or protected them from the injuries. The NCAA has also faced scrutiny over its decision to leave the handling of concussions largely to individual conferences and schools instead of enacting wide-ranging standards.
That lawsuit came from athletes in various sports, and though football remains the focus of concussion awareness efforts, other athletes have recently quit their sports over the injuries too. Former Washington State University soccer player Nicole Setterlund, who the National Women’s Soccer League’s Chicago Red Stars made a first-round draft pick this year,announced in March that she would instead retire from the game due to concussion issues.
None of this means that football, soccer, or collegiate sports are facing immediate or impending death, though it should continue raising concerns at all levels of sports about how they can better protect athletes at the professional, collegiate, and youth levels. And it shows both that athletes are increasingly aware of the risks of brain injuries and the importance of making those risks even more clear, because when athletes (or, at the youth level, their parents) are aware of the risks they are taking, they can make their own decisions about whether it is worth it to play.