Keep your head up

Photo of Chris Borland via

Are our passions worth dying for?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. April 7, 2015

When the San Francisco 49ers’ 24-year-old star linebacker, Chris Borland, walked away from the game as a precaution against life-crippling head injuries, many were left puzzled and rather frustrated. The puzzlement came from the fact that Borland was stepping away from more than a sport; he left a huge salary, an extravagant lifestyle, and a future of athletic achievements behind. Many would kill to get the opportunity that Borland had and it’s frustrating that the NFL has created an environment where playing a sport professionally has become akin to self-endangerment.

“From what I’ve researched and what I’ve experienced, I don’t think it’s worth the risk,” said Borland in an interview with ESPN. Then he added, “I just want to live a long, healthy life, and I don’t want to have any neurological diseases or die younger than I would otherwise.”

Nobody can argue against a statement like that. We live in a world where we are driven to excel. We work so hard that we are all certainly on the verge of our breaking point. I speak not only of football, but also of life in general. We push ourselves to the limit and we cannot always be certain that our human body and our state of mind can handle the strain.

In the critically acclaimed movie Whiplash—a story about a jazz student striving to be the best drummer possible—we learn what true passion mixed with unquenchable determination can do to someone, especially after an instructor puts them through physical and psychological hell. The movie made the point plain and simple: blood, sweat, and tears were merely the byproduct of success, in addition to the mental strain. In life we should all be so fortunate to have something that we are passionate about, that we can devote our whole life to, that we can one day be remembered for, and when it’s time and we are on our death bed, we can say that we did all we could and then pass away happy.

Borland will live a long life, but he will lose all those glorious moments. Forget the money. There are many ways for an able-bodied man like Borland to make money. What I want to focus on are the intangible moments of life. Life is not everlasting. It’s made up of moments of intensity and long periods of anticipation. Borland will never feel the thrill of standing in front of 60,000 people. He will never lift the Vince Lombardi Trophy in victory. He will only be remembered as a man who merely lived a healthy life. Admirable, but far from inspiring—at least that is how our overachieving society will consider him.

I want to congratulate Borland for his courageous decision, but I won’t. It’s hard to celebrate a quitter. It’s hard to praise a ‘fraidy cat. It’s hard to look up to someone who is a coward. Many people get injured or die on the job, from McDonald’s employees to construction workers to professional athletes. Life is full of uncertainty—disease, accidents, strange twists of fate all happen to normal people—and to simply write yourself off because of a likelihood of injury, well that is pure defeat.

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