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Concussion concerns changing the landscape of the NFL

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Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

There was once a time in the NFL where nobody acknowledged the elephant in the room, where nobody talked about the beatings these players are taking. It still isn't the topic that is most brought up in football but it is now becoming far more involved in the conversation than it used to be.

There used to be a time where players played no matter how hard of a hit they just took. They didn't come out for a play, let alone a game or even longer. Now with the safety protocols in place that type of ignorance isn't happening as often and we are seeing a more profound impact on the sport because of it. Many players still want to hold true to the iron man history of the game of football, but some are actually considering the long term impact of the hits they are taking.

Take a look at former Raiders MLB Nick Roach and former 49ers ILB Chris Borland as two shining examples of the transformative state that the NFL is currently in. One player has been held out on doctors orders for an entire season and has his career in jeopardy whether he wants to play or not in Nick Roach, while the other played one very good season in the NFL and is already retiring in Chris Borland.

For Nick Roach there has been a lot of mystery surrounding his severe concussion that has him still feeling side effects a year later. For all intents and purposes his career appears to be finished altogether, but even if he plays again it wont be for the Raiders. They have already released him because of the injury concerns and GM Reggie McKenzie made it very clear via Bay Area News Group before the official announcement of Roach's release that it was probably in his best interest for him not to play anymore.

"The last time the medical staff had spoken to me, he has not cleared as of yet. You've got to start looking out for the player." McKenzie said back in February, "We'll continue to communicate with the medical staff and I'll talk to Nick and we'll make the decision. But I'm in the best interests of the player and as much as we'd love him to be our signal caller on defense, I don't want to risk life-long injury if he goes out there. Especially if he has any, not discomfort, but any type of feeling within him that something's not right. And for it to last this long is not a good thing."

Now the cynics among us will say it wasn't in Roach's best interest as much as the liability the Raiders would face if he were to get even more injured playing for them and that may be true. However, it doesn't matter the intent of the release as much as the reasoning behind the decision. The head injuries that Roach has experienced have put his health in danger for possibly the rest of his life and appear to have prematurely ended his playing career.

Other players are definitely paying more attention to this than ever before, just look at the previously mentioned Chris Borland as an example. Unlike Roach, Borland isn't waiting for a major injury and doctors to make the decision for him. He was a 3rd round pick in last April's draft (one I wanted the Raiders to make in fact) and even though he only played regularly for half of the season he was still thrust into the conversation for defensive rookie of the year.

Chris Borland was a star in the making, somebody who had millions upon millions waiting for him as his career went on if he continued to play at the level he played his rookie year. Not only was the future earnings staring at him in the face, but his main counterpart at the ILB position and signal caller for the 49ers defense Patrick Willis had just announced his early retirement as well at just the age of 30. The reins were there for Borland to take, he would have been the head of a very stout defense.

Instead, Chris Borland has abruptly retired from the game of football. He has hung up his cleats and announced his retirement in far and away the most surprising retirement in years, it is the most surprising retirement the NFL has seen since Ricky Williams. To Chris Borland, the math of potential risk compared to financial reward just did not add up.

"To me it's like jumping into the water and you can't see how deep it is," he said to ESPN's Outside the Lines. "I don't know if I'm going to go through and be unscathed or if I'll cut my foot or if I'll land facefirst into a rock. I don't know, and correlation isn't causation, so these cases I've read and researched into, they may not be pertinent to me at all, or they might. To me, that risk isn't worth it, and I've got enough going on in my life and other interests that I want to pursue."

Eventually Ricky Williams returned to the game of football but that appears very unlikely in Borland's case. To many people out there it seems absurd to walk away from the potential to make millions of dollars and to live out what is a pipe dream to your average person. Borland understands that, but still he feels at peace with his decision.

"No," Chris said about returning to football, "I feel like I've put a lot into this decision, and in my heart and in my head, it feels right. It is right. I don't think there's any going back. I know it seems like a really brief career. But I think 10 years for me, counting high school, college and one year in the pros, is a full football life."

What kind of ripples will this have in the NFL community? Nobody really knows right now, but it definitely could make other young players take a closer look at whether it really is worth it. This really could be the beginning of a new era of football where the players don't just take the beatings with no thoughts of their future, and that might not be such a bad thing either.

The truth is football is a very dangerous, very violent sport. Nobody should go into it blindly and assume that they will be fine from it because the truth is that you might not be. It is ok to take that risk for the financial reward and it is ok to take that risk for the love of the game, it should not be okay to take that risk because you were ignorant towards the possibility of long term effects though.

The NFL is changing each and every year as we move forward. Retired players are regretting their actions and suing the NFL for their pain and suffering and the NFL in turn is actually proactively trying to tackle the issue of head injuries now because of it. The players themselves are noticing more than ever too and that is going to continue to effect the world of football.

We know the sport is a dangerous one now and we know there are consequences for some of these athletes who choose to put their bodies on the line. It will be interesting to see if Chris Borland's situation becomes less surprising and more frequent. We will see if possible star players will be walking away early instead of waiting to see if it's too late for their futures.

Nick Roach's situation is different but expect to see more cases like him too. This isn't some under the table concern anymore, it is now at the forefront and people are taking notice. The team doctors are going to continue to get stricter on head injuries and the game is going to continue to evolve in order to combat them. With that being the case more and more players are going to be held out, more and more players are going to fail the tests to get back on the field. More and more players are going to be where Nick Roach is, unsure about their future and unable to continue playing in the NFL.

The NFL can no longer afford to pretend like they are not responsible for these players health after football, the courts are no longer going to let them pretend like they weren't responsible either. It doesn't mean the end of football, but it does mean football will be changing. For better or worse, concussions have officially changed the landscape of the NFL. We will just have to wait and see how many Chris Borland's and Nick Roach's show up in the future.