The NFL’s concussion crisis went from bad to worse last month. Chris Borland, the San Francisco 49ers’ rookie linebacker sensation, abruptly announced his retirement from professional football at the age of 24. He was afraid that, if he continued to subject his brain to the repeated trauma inherent to his sport, he would break it. So he hung up his cleats and walked away from a $3 million contract.
“I just don’t want to get in a situation where I’m negotiating my health for money,” Borland told ESPN’s Outside the Lines. “Who knows how many hits is too many?”
At the peak of the NFL offseason, when fans and sportswriters are typically focused on free agency and the college draft, the league was rocked by a series of retirement announcements from four players age 30 or younger. Borland’s announcement was preceded by that of his teammate, Patrick Willis (30), the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Jason Worilds (27) and former Tennessee Titan Jake Locker (26). Only Borland and Willis cited injuries or the risk thereof as their deciding factor, but Locker has been banged up throughout his four-year career.
The willingness of these young men to walk away from the fame, glory and riches of the pinnacle of American sport should come as terrifying news to the NFL’s directors. They have only recently joined the waking world’s consensus that repeated concussions have an adverse effect on long-term mental health. For more than a decade, the former head of the league’s committee on mild traumatic brain injury, Dr. Elliott Pellman, downplayed the connection, dismissing an early study as “speculative and unscientific.” That was before a wave of high-profile diagnoses, suicides and lawsuits shed a blinding light on the issue and forced the NFL to encourage “heads-up” tackling at every level and adopt a series of rules designed to prevent brain injuries.
It may be too late. Experts have predicted that the sport will die if too many parents decide to keep their kids from playing and lawsuits against high school and college programs cause insurance premiums to spike to untenable levels. So in order to survive, the game is changing — too fast for the NFL and some fans, but not fast enough for Chris Borland.
Federal regulators and state attorneys general would have the American consumer believe that the auto retail industry is mired in a mindset similar to the slow-to-adapt NFL. I disagree. I have yet to meet a dealer who leverages his or her business acumen toward figuring out how to cheat car buyers. The dealers I know sell and lease vehicles on a slim margin, arrange financing, offer products to secure their customers’ investments and build long-term relationships as a result.
I met several in Miami last November at the first Compliance Summit, and I hope to meet more when the event hits Chicago this month. Anyone involved in front-end compliance, including dealers, compliance officers, managers and staff, is welcome to join us. You will be treated to a review of past regulatory actions at the local, state and federal level, have access to some of the industry’s brightest minds and be equipped to form a lasting, viable plan to prepare your operation for any inquiry.
Our speakers will include attorneys and compliance experts, such as Reynolds and Reynolds’ Terry O’Loughlin and the AFG Training Academy’s Bob Harkins, as well as leading agents, including Chicago native Randy Crisorio of United Development Systems Inc. and World Class Dealer Services’ Michael Tuno, both of whom work with dealers to tackle compliance issues on a daily basis.
Our league has faced a number of rule changes, but unlike the NFL, dealers are not sitting idle and hoping the noise will die down. Our best hope for continued progress is to stay informed, be proactive and keep our heads up.