You may not know who Chris Borland is, but the National Football League certainly does. He's been described as "the most dangerous man in football" by ESPN — and for good reason. He is one of the few players today that is standing up to the NFL's blatant censorship of science.
This week, Borland released a video describing why it was science that ultimately compelled him to walk away from pro football and a 2.9 million dollar contract.
At the University of Wisconsin, Borland was an intimidating player. He won the Big Ten Conference's Defensive Player of the Year award and played on multiple All-American teams. In 2014, Borland was drafted to the San Francisco 49ers, and in his rookie season, he led the team in tackles.
Borland was well on his way towards becoming a star football player. Then, he suddenly decided to quit.
Borland's decision to quit football revolved around the part he was best at: tackling. Over the years, Borland had sustained several concussions, and he became increasingly worried that the repetitive hits would lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
CTE is a degenerative brain condition that is caused by repetitive brain trauma, which can lead to memory loss, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and suicide.
There is also robust evidence to suggest that CTE is highly prevalent among football players. In fact, just this year researchers at Boston University examined the brains of 111 deceased NFL players to find that only one did not have CTE.
"In training camp before my rookie season with the San Francisco 49ers, we were hearing the tragic stories of players like Junior Seau and Dave Duerson, and it made me wonder "What's going to happen to me if I play this game for a long time?"" Borland said, referring to two pro football players who ended up taking their lives. It was later found that they both suffered from CTE.
Borland spent the entire season reading about the issue, before he decided that his health was more important than the game.
Yet despite the indisputable correlation, the NFL has decided to prioritize their piggy banks over the health of their players. In fact, there is ample evidence to suggest that the NFL has tried to cover up the correlation between football and CTE.
"The NFL has been trying to sow doubt about the science behind brain injuries, which for me is especially sad when you think about the fact that there are five-year-old kids out there playing tackle football," Borland said.
Ever since the early 2000s, when the first evidence of CTE in football players was discovered, the NFL has been downplaying the science. Instead of working with scientists to better understand CTE and figure out ways to make the game safer, the NFL has attacked the reputation of scientists and doctors that work on CTE.
Their tactics are reminiscent of those used by Big Tobacco and fossil fuel companies like Exxon, who have been accused of hiding crucial information from the public in order to "downplay the harms of their products."
After researching the issue, Borland became unsettled with the way the NFL was handling the science. In the end, he decided to join ranks with the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Now, instead of defending his team on the field, Borland defends science in all areas of society.
"We need to stop this from continuing—in football and in other industries—by standing up for science with groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists, which works to ensure that science doesn't get sidelined from decisions that can put our health and safety at risk," he said.
As part of the initiative, the Union of Concerned Scientists recently created a website called the Disinformation Playbook, where they expose industries like the NFL that are sidelining science.
"We've seen this playbook deployed again and again," said Genna Reed, science and policy analyst at UCS.
"When science is pushed to the sidelines, it poses a real threat to our health and safety. We need to recognize and expose these tactics to make sure everyone can benefit from independent science."
And that is exactly what Borland is trying to do. Borland's recent PSA video is directly focused on exposing this message.
"Science lobbyists in many industries are paid handsomely to convince lawmakers to undermine science that protects our health," he said in his recent video.
"We all need to speak up and make sure that science isn't sidelined. Because when powerful interests keep science from the decision-making process, people get hurt."