Chris Borland’s decision to turn his back on a multi-million dollar career as a hard hitting linebacker may have sent shockwaves throughout the NFL, but the implications could be just as significant for major league baseball.
If Borland’s early retirement was the headline of yesterday’s sports news, MLB appointing Tony Reagins to the newly created position of senior vice president for youth programs was a footnote. And, that’s being generous. However, there is a strong link between the two stories…one that Reagins would be wise to exploit in his new job.
According to Commissioner Rob Manfred, one of Reagins’ mandates will be to increase youth participation in amateur baseball, whether it be on the local, high school or college level. Presumably, Reagins will be responsible for coordinating the operational and financial support of youth-based initiatives across the country, but the most important message he and MLB could send to young athletes is one Borland may have benefited from when he was a kid: baseball doesn’t ask its athletes to choose between a successful career and a healthy life.
Injuries are a part of every sport, but the relative risk faced by football players is much greater, especially when you consider the shorter playing careers and lack of guaranteed contracts faced by those who toil on the grid iron. Granted, baseball does not provide immediate fame on the NCAA level, and spending several years in the minor leagues lacks instant gratification, but for those athletes who persevere, the rewards are much greater and, more importantly, the risks are much less. That’s the message Reagins should hammer home every chance he gets. Providing more opportunities for America’s youth to play baseball should be paramount, but once they are involved, a little evangelization could go a long way.
Chris Borland’s retirement is the NFL’s loss today, but at some point in the future, it could be MLB’s gain. Who knows whether Borland is a trailblazer or an anomaly, but if other top athletes decide to follow in his footsteps, MLB should be eager to provide them with an alternate path. Baseball’s overriding goal should be to attract as many great athletes as possible into the fold, and if that mean’s exploiting the inherent dangers of other sports, so be it. Doing so would certainly be good for baseball, but it would be even better for the health of the young athletes who make the transition.