bad sports, good sports

Bad sports, good sports: Early retirements shock the NFL

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While it is the goal of many children to grow up to be professional athletes, few will make it there. The ones who do are considered to be incredibly lucky to get to make their living playing games. There is some risk involved too, though, especially in contact sports. In football, it is generally accepted that injuries are just a part of the game. With research into head injuries showing dramatic negative effects, we are starting to see players leave the game rather than expose themselves to debilitating injury. The big stories this week involved Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker and San Francisco 49ers linebackers Patrick Willis and Chris Borland, who all retired unexpectedly.

Jake Locker is only 26 years old. He was chosen eighth in the 2011 NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans to be the team’s franchise quarterback. The expectations on a player taken that high, especially at that position, are enormous. Locker only managed to play in 30 of a possible 64 games during his four year career, missing at least five games in every season due to a variety of injuries. He never came close to living up to the promise he showed in college, and he was not going to be re-signed by the Titans. Still, it was quite a surprise that he decided to step away from the sport rather than to try to find a home with another team, an opportunity that he surely would have had in this quarterback-starved league. The constant injuries sapped his will to play, and the risk of additional became to great a cost when compared to his desire to continue.

Patrick Willis, on the other hand, had a great and hugely productive career over the last eight years. He made the Pro Bowl seven times in those eight seasons, and was often considered the best linebacker in football. Unlike Locker, Willis played in most of his team’s games throughout his career, never missing more than three games in a season until last year, when he missed ten games due to a toe problem that required surgery. At thirty years old, he simply decided that he wanted to quit while his body still functioned pretty well rather than get beat up for a few more years and suffer the consequences for the rest of his life.

The most shocking one of all involves Chris Borland, who retired on Monday at the age of 24. He had played only one season in the NFL, toiling alongside Patrick Willis on the San Francisco defense. He had a fantastic season, going from an undersized third-round draft pick to a rising star by season’s end. He said he had suffered a concussion during a preseason game last year, the third time that had happened to him (with the other two happening before college). His retirement is surely a big deal for the NFL, which has spent a lot of time and money on both concussion research and on conussion-related lawsuits from former players in recent years. Several prominent former players, including Dave Duerson and Junior Seau, killed themselves due to depression that has been linked to CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a disorder brought on by repeated blows to the head. The publicity around those deaths, as well as the new medical protocols put in place by the professional leagues for players suffering concussions, has brought a lot of negative attention to these sports. More and more parents are keeping their kids from taking up these sports for fear of this kind of injury.

There have always been some players that retired sooner than expected. Jim Brown and Barry Sanders are good examples. It is even less surprising to me now when it happens, as these players make far more money than ever before and can be set for life at a much younger age if they are smart with their money. The Borland situation is different, as he was not a high draft pick and is certainly not set for life after just one season at $500,000 or so. I can’t fault a guy for being unwilling to turn his brain into mush, though, even if some people think he’s a quitter. It’s his life in the end.

Bad sports, continued:

2) Joe Thornton, a center for the San Jose Sharks, was the team captain until last summer, when that captaincy was removed. Team GM Doug Wilson, during an interview with a newspaper on Friday, said that had happened because of Thornton’s inability to deal with stress. Thornton then told the same paper that Wilson was lying and needed to “shut his mouth.” Sounds like a good situation out there in California.

3) A bird that was sitting on top of the backstop net at Champions Stadium in Orlando, minding its own business, got a face full of baseball on Friday when a foul ball off the bat of Detroit Tigers catcher James McCann flew to just the right (or wrong) spot. A burst of feathers could be seen on the video, and the bird reportedly landed in the lap of a spectator who certainly had been hoping for a better souvenir.

4) Kevin Pillar, an outfielder for the Toronto Blue Jays, will miss a week or two of spring training after he injured his oblique muscle while sneezing on Saturday. Oops.

5) The Georgia State basketball team won the Sun Belt conference tournament on Saturday, beating Georgia Southern by the very low score of 38-36 to head back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001. Head coach Ron Hunter was so excited that he leaped off the bench at the buzzer to celebrate. In doing so, he tore his achilles and is now in a cast, getting around with the help of a scooter.

6) When you are sitting very close to the field or the court at a sporting event, it is wise to pay attention. When I have had a seat by the field at a baseball game, I have kept very vigilant for fear of foul balls. I am not sure I would be as concerned at a basketball game, but a woman at a game between the Charlotte Hornets and the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday likely feels differently. She was admiring something on her friend’s phone when Gerald Henderson of the Hornets couldn’t gather a high pass from one of his teammates. The ball tipped off his fingers and headed straight for the unsuspecting woman’s nose, which promptly did some nice bleeding. I’m awful, I know, but I can’t help but laugh when I watch the video.

7) Adrian Klemm, a rising star of a coach for UCLA’s football team, has been suspended indefinitely by the school for unnamed recruiting violations found during a recent investigation.

8) Ashley Judd, actress and devoted sports fan, was ripped into mercilessly on Twitter over the weekend when she tweeted that Arkansas was playing her beloved Kentucky Wildcats dirty. The attacks included many threats of sexual violence. Judd says she is pressing charges against the offending parties. Good. What the heck is wrong with people?

9) OK, I’m a fan of Chip Kelly, and I am hanging in there with the wild moves he has been making for the Philadelphia Eagles in recent weeks, but what happened Monday was over the line. Tim Tebow was in town for a workout, and I have heard of nothing else since then. Online, on the radio, in the office…it’s all Tebow, all the time. I can’t take it. I am holding you personally responsible for this, Chip.

Good sports: none at this time.

Bad sports, good sports appears early each week

Alan Spoll is a software quality assurance director from the suburbs of Philadelphia where he lives with his wonderful wife and children. He has spent his entire life as a passionate fan of the Eagles, Phillies, Sixers, Flyers, and Penn State. Recent Phillies success aside, you will understand his natural negativity. Follow me on Twitter - @DocAlan02
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