In 2015, Chris Borland retired from the San Francisco 49ers after his rookie season, walking away from a promising career in football because he believed the National Football League wasn’t being honest about the risks of catastrophic brain damage to players.
Now, Borland is working with the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) to raise awareness of how powerful interests, including the NFL, attack science for their own gain.
In a new public service announcement that will begin airing this week, Borland discusses his decision to leave the NFL. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain condition caused by repeated head injuries, is a risk for football players, but the NFL spent years working to downplay and discredit research on the condition, putting a generation of players at risk.
“The NFL has been trying to sow doubt about the science behind brain injuries, which for me is especially sad when you think about the fact that there are 5-year-old kids out there playing tackle football,” said Borland. “The costs are high, and the NFL has made a lot of money while passing those costs on to the players, their families and their communities. We need to stop this from continuing—in football and in other industries—by standing up for science.”
The NFL is just one of the industries that UCS is featuring in the Disinformation Playbook, a new website exposing the ways that some companies and trade associations sideline science. The tactics that the NFL uses to attack the facts about concussions and CTE are similar to campaigns by the tobacco industry, fossil fuel companies, and manufacturers of sugary sodas to attempt to downplay the harms of their products.
“We’ve seen this playbook deployed again and again,” said Genna Reed, science and policy analyst at UCS. “When science is pushed to the sidelines, it poses a real threat to our health and safety. We need to recognize and expose these tactics to make sure everyone can benefit from independent science.”
In addition to the video PSA, Chris Borland also talked about his experiences leaving the NFL on UCS’s Got Science? podcast, and will present at the Powering Precision Health Summit on October 24 and 25 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.