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WR Andrew Hawkins Retired From The NFL After Playing With The Bengals And Browns And Signing With The Patriots This Offseason. Photo Credit: Erik Drost – Under Creative Commons License

As training camp is underway in the NFL, it is clear that some of the younger and brighter talents are no longer in the league today. Less than a week ago, offensive lineman, John Urschel announced his retirement at the age of 26. A few days before that, Andrew Hawkins of the New England Patriots, also called it quits.  And now, Branden Albert of the Jacksonville Jaguars has called it quits.

These are just a couple of the many young, talented NFL players who have chosen to retire early in these past years. Early retirement in the NFL has become the newest trend and it almost simultaneously began when chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, research began to be published. Although not all players will admit that the reason behind early retirement has to do with fear of CTE, most have spoken about their worries before announcing their retirement.

CTE Research Results The Motive Behind Early Retirement In NFL?

In John Urschel’s case, although he didn’t point to CTE as being a reason for retirement, he has spoken up about the disease. In 2015, he wrote an essay for, The Players’ Tribune, where he writes about knowing all that could go wrong because of football, but choosing to continue playing for the love of the game. His retirement announcement just one year later could mean that his health is now his priority over football.

For Andrew Hawkins, he didn’t say that CTE was the reason behind his retirement but he has made it clear, that he will donate his brain to CTE research. A large majority of NFL players who have left the league early have been outspoken about their health and the possibility of developing the degenerative brain disorder. 

One of the most outspoken players has been Chris Borland, an ex-linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers, who announced his retirement at the age of 24. Even more shocking was when Borland confirmed his retirement had to do with fear of CTE. Borland played his rookie season in 2014 for the 49ers and did a real solid job for a third-round draft pick. He chalked up 2 interceptions, 1 sack, and 107 tackles in his first and only year in the NFL. Borland was healthy and from the stats of his rookie season, anyone could see that he had a real bright future ahead of him. So, it was clearly shocking when he decided to retire, after only one year. 

According to Borland in an interview with ESPN, the research was too overwhelming for him to believe that he could walk away from football in the future, without being exposed to CTE. He knows the limitations of the research and that just because there is a correlation it does not mean that there is causation, but if it has to do with his health, it is better safe than sorry.

Being better safe than sorry has been the mantra for most of the early retirees. Just two days before Urschel’s retirement announcement, on July 25, 2017, the Boston University School of Medicine published its latest research findings. Researchers found that out of the 111, ex-NFL players brains’ that they studied, 110 of them were diagnosed with CTE. CTE is a brain degenerative disease that is usually found in people who have suffered repeated trauma to the head.  

As of right now, CTE can only be detected once the person has passed away so that the brain tissue can be fully examined. For football, trauma can come in the form of concussions and any other repetitive hits in the head. Symptoms of CTE can vary from disorientation and dizziness to dementia, speech impediments, and erratic behavior. So basically, according to the research, football players heads are being hit consistently throughout their entire career, enough to damage the neurons in their brain. Then after years of feeling okay, most of them will start to forget things, start to act erratic, and begin to feel lost in a world that they once knew. 

The first player to feel lost and get diagnosed with CTE was Pittsburgh Steeler center, Mike Webster. Webster was a super star center with the Steelers, winning four Super Bowl Championships. He left an amazing football legacy behind him and whatever he did after football would have surely been even more amazing, yet that was not the case. After football, Webster was forgetful and suffered from depression and muscle pain. It was a Mike Webster that no one in the world saw coming. He lived out of his pickup truck, refusing help from others, and in 2002, he suffered a life-ending heart attack. Through an autopsy, it was then determined that Webster suffered from a brain degenerative disorder, CTE, possibly caused by the enormous amounts of hits taken to his head. Webster now serves as the model of what a football player’s future could look like if they continue to play in the league for a longer period of time.  

I strongly feel that players are retiring at an earlier age because they want to avoid developing CTE and want to avoid a future like that of Mike Webster and other diagnosed football players. Hence, they retire earlier than what would be deemed usual for the NFL. Retirement happens all the time, in all sports leagues, but the age discrepancy in football is what is most shocking and most revealing. Of course, there are other reasons for retirement, but when the CTE research came out, almost a few years later was when early retirement in the NFL began rising. CTE is becoming a real and possible disease for all football players and with new information consistently being published, one can only imagine how much time and effort goes into making a retirement decision.

Although various measures have been made by the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell to improve game safety, it is clear that not many players feel safe and it is resulting in the early retirement phenomenon that we are watching. There is definitely hope that the NFL can turn around its safety procedures, and inadvertently put a pause on the early retirement trend. Safety in football can be achieved and it is not a distant possibility, however, there is a lot of work to be done by the NFL to put an end to early retirement as an option, but they better act quickly before it is too late.

Leslie Torres-Valadez

Author Leslie Torres-Valadez

West coast sports nerd, with a love for east coast football.

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