If you have been living with your head firmly buried in the sand or under some kind of rock -- and if you're a San Francisco 49ers fan, that's a distinct possibility at this point -- then I'll tell you that 49ers starting right tackle Anthony Davis announced his retirement from the NFL on Friday.
Davis said that he needs to give his body and mind a chance to heal, and while this isn't exactly common for 25-year-old starters, it's not that strange. Though few high-profile players have left the game due to any kind of health concern, it's also not strange. Maybe that's because we've been here before ... not so long ago with Chris Borland.
What Borland did was make a very calculated, very respectable decision about his health and the risks he's willing to take with that health at this early stage in his life. It wasn't a product of a lack of passion or love for football and it wasn't an absence of reason. And that's not to say that players who play in the NFL have it all wrong, because Borland isn't objectively "right," but it's not difficult putting myself in his shoes to see where he's coming from.
The sobering reality of the NFL is that it's a hard game. Every aspect of it is hard on the people who play it so many ways. It's a mental strain, it's a physical strain and it takes its toll out on their bodies and their minds every single time the ball is snapped. It's the dirty little secret that hasn't actually been a secret for decades, even if the NFL has only begrudgingly acknowledged it over the past few years.
I don't know if there's ever going to be a solution for that kind of thing that still results in an on-the-field product that's anywhere near as satisfying for you and me as fans and frankly, it's above my pay-grade to even consider what that would potentially look like. But it's not above my pay-grade to know that this game we all know and love is essentially a guilty pleasure.
Borland got out, and now Davis has too. As someone with his own complicated history of head injuries -- because head injuries are and should be at center stage when discussing player health -- I fully support them and hope they get out of life exactly what they want, and hope their short time in the NFL has enabled them to do that.
But Davis' exit isn't quite as clean as Borland's was. Davis, who sustained a very serious concussion that caused him to miss four games last season, has left the door open for a potential return to the NFL. In his statement, Davis says that he will "take a year or so away from the NFL," and that he plans to return. In that instance, the 49ers would still have his rights and as he noted on Twitter, at that point he'd still be well under 30 years old.
Whether or not Davis can make that kind of comeback is something we'll discuss when it approaches, but I'm more concerned with Davis' reasoning and his intentions. I don't question whether or not he's making the "right" decisions, because he is his own person and I've never had the impression that he doesn't have a good head on his shoulders.
No, in fact, of the players I've been exposed to on a level outside of just watching them play, Davis has always come off as one of the more well-reasoned, calculated individuals. Again, I am not going to question these aspects of him or his personality, but not only leaving the door open but promising to return through it is certainly unexpected.
Borland knows he's done with the NFL. He knows that the risk is great every single time he's on the field. Every time you take a major blow to the head, it's significant. The damage one can sustain in the NFL ranges in severity, but inflicting permanent damage on one's brain via repeated head injuries is a thing that can happen. More than that, it's not entirely unlikely.
I'm not a medical expert, but again I do have some experience in this area and I have to say, Davis sounds more like someone who hasn't fully committed to a decision at this point. Not that I expect he'll change his mind and play this season or even next, but clearly this was not an easy call for him to make. For Borland, there was a moment where it all clicked and it made sense to him and the decision was final. For Davis, I wonder if he experienced that moment.
I don't know if Davis is still feeling the effects of his first ever concussion in the NFL. I do know that it shook him at the time, and the worst thing about coming off of a head injury is that there are times when you're unsure if you actually have come off of it. Not being able to think clearly when you haven't willingly done something to alter your mental state (hello, booze) is a frightening prospect and it's understandable if he was shaken up.
But where is he today? Are there times when he's worried that the concussion he did sustain still affect him? Are there times when he's worried that the next one will be so much worse because of the first one? It's certainly possible and if Davis is anywhere at all between knowing something definitively and being unclear of an answer, leaving the door open for a potential return could be the thing he needed to say to reassure himself that this was the correct decision to make.
I should stress, once again, that this is all speculation.
The reason why leaving the door open is such a head-scratcher, aside from the potential explanation I've given you from HIS perspective, is that this game, barring some kind of major advancement in safety technology over the next "year or so," Davis will be putting himself in the same exact amount of danger then as he did last season. As far as I understand brain injuries (and this is the important factor, we're not talking about him having a sore back, here), which isn't a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, Davis is not going to make himself safer when he returns by taking this break.
If someone has any thoughts on that last bit, it's honestly the most-intriguing aspect to me. I've called his decision to leave the door open for a return strange and many other things, but my own experiences lend me to believe it's more for him than it is for us. But on a medical level, I can't imagine this does much for what kind of danger he's potentially putting himself in once he returns. If this is motivated out of a legitimate desire to rest and recuperate, then that makes sense but again, I think much of that could be influenced by doubt.
I wish Davis all of the best, and I hope whatever decisions he makes going forward are decisions he firmly believes are in his best interest. The 49ers will be fine. You and I will be fine, and while football has some larger questions to answer going forward, the NFL will probably be fine.