San Francisco 49ers

Dr. John York respects Chris Borland’s decision but says game getting safer

Dr. John York, the head of the NFL’s health and safety committee, said he sympathizes with Chris Borland but that the NFL is becoming safer.
Dr. John York, the head of the NFL’s health and safety committee, said he sympathizes with Chris Borland but that the NFL is becoming safer. AP

Dr. John York on Monday said he understands Chris Borland’s concerns about head trauma and the dangers of playing NFL football but that he would have reached a different conclusion than the 49ers linebacker, who abruptly stepped away from the game last week.

Borland, 24, said there was too much “gray area” when it came to concussion research and that he wasn’t willing to risk his health.

York said he sympathized but said there’s more information -- in the form of studies and statistics -- now than ever, and he said that head injuries were trending downward.

Concussions dropped 25 percent in 2014 from the year before, York said, and were down 36 percent from two years ago. He also said helmet-to-helmet hits dropped by roughly 50 percent from 2013 to 2014.

He noted that rules have been changed or tweaked and that there are more eyes on players -- including a spotter in the press box -- who are suspected of suffering a dangerous blow to the head.

“If you look at the amount of money that has gone into research -- in 2010 if you wrote a grant, you couldn’t get a nickel,” York said. “Today that’s different.”

York cited a comprehensive, 20-year study by NIH that promises to be the most comprehensive to date on the subject.

There’s already been a culture change at every level of the sport, from youth leagues on up, when it comes to concussion awareness, York said. He said that he’d like players to be a big part of that as well.

“What you want the culture to be is they look out for each other,” he said.

Borland said he’s been diagnosed with two concussions in his life, once while playing soccer in eighth grade and again while playing high school football. But he suspects there have been more, including one during 49ers training camp last year. The hit was so routine, Borland said, that he wondered how many he would absorb over a career in the sport.

York said Borland did not consult with him before retiring and that he wouldn’t have tried to talk him -- or any other player -- out of that decision. He said the league’s job is to provide players with as much information as possible and allow them to make their own decisions.

“I completely agree with Chris Borland that at this time it’s gray -- there’s not a definitive answer,” York said. “But I think that we’ve shown that the game is safer, and I think other people are going to come up with a different conclusion.”

Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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