The Boston Globe, March 20, 2015
By all accounts, Chris Borland of the San Francisco 49ers was on the cusp of professional stardom. An All-American at Wisconsin, he was expected to be a starting linebacker for the 49ers next season, earning $2.9 million over his first four years. When he announced this week that he is retiring from football at the age of only 24, he stunned fans and followers of the game. But he should be commended for his reasons: He is troubled by evidence of brain damage from repetitive head trauma in the sport he loves. His move should prompt renewed debate about safety in the NFL, one of the nation's most visible and powerful brands.
Borland told ESPN that he was haunted by a blow last summer in training camp. It felt like a concussion, but he kept playing, in an effort to make the team. "I just thought to myself, 'What am I doing,' " Borland said. "Is this how I'm going to live my adult life, banging my head, especially with what I've learned and knew about the dangers?"
Borland, a history major at Wisconsin, said he was moved to his decision by several other factors, including reading about the discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in the brains of deceased stars such as Super Bowl champions Dave Duerson and Mike Webster and lesser-known players such as Ray Easterling. All went on to suffer from depression. Duerson and Easterling committed suicide, and Webster became homeless and died of a heart attack at 50.
Initial reaction from most players was respectful, but the NFL again fumbled. The league responded to Borland's retirement by claiming, "By any measure, football has never been safer." It said the number of concussions was down 25 percent last season because of rule changes, safer tackling techniques, and medical protocols. In reality, the league has no proof of safety; researchers fear that the hundreds or thousands of subconcussive hits a player takes over his career may play a larger role in brain damage.
There is increasing evidence that other players are thinking about getting out before it's too late. Last season, receiver Sidney Rice retired from the Seattle Seahawks after seven seasons and at least eight concussions. He is donating his brain to research. But he already had his Super Bowl ring, and, hopefully, money in the bank.
Borland was just getting started. By being the most prominent healthy NFL player yet to place long-term health ahead of short-term lucrative stardom at one of the league's most storied franchises, he became an instant role model for youth and parents in a nation increasingly discomfited by football. To be sure, the chance for fame and fortune will still lure thousands of boys into the sport, and many will survive its brutality with their health intact. But Borland has established a new benchmark and has sent a welcome message that there is nothing wrong with stepping off the gridiron.
The New Britain (Conn.) Herald, March 19, 2015
On March 18, President Obama suggested that, rather than build up more and more barriers to voting, the country make the act of casting a ballot mandatory.
"If everybody voted, then it would completely change the political map in this country," Obama said, calling it potentially transformative.
And, of course, that's exactly why some would oppose the idea.
The Associated Press reported that "less than 37 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the 2014 midterms, according to the United States Election Project. And a Pew Research Center study found that those avoiding the polls in 2014 tended to be younger, poorer, less educated and more racially diverse."
The result was good news for Republicans, who took control of the House and Senate. By contrast, when many of these younger, more racially diverse voters turned out in the last two presidential elections, Obama was most often their choice.
"There's a reason why some folks try to keep them away from the polls," Obama said.
And others might object to another potential result of universal voting — it would "counteract money more than anything," Obama said.
Rich donors have become an integral part of state and national elections and they use their dollars to influence the outcome of races throughout the country. Supposedly, they support candidates who are like-minded; that is to say, they are not "buying" the candidate, just supporting someone with ideas similar to their own. But, once elected, it would be hard for an officer holder to ignore the supporter who spent millions securing that House or Senate seat — especially if he or she faces re-election and the need for additional dollars.
Obama told a Cleveland audience that he thought it would be "fun" for the U.S. to consider amending the Constitution to change the role that money plays in the electoral system.
But, he added, "realistically, given the requirements of that process, that would be a long-term proposition."
While we'd guess that it would also be nearly impossible to pass a law making voting mandatory, we were surprised to learn that it's been done in other nations. According to AP, at least two dozen countries have some form of compulsory voting, including Belgium, Brazil, Australia and Argentina. In many systems, absconders must provide a valid excuse or face a fine, although a few countries have laws on the books that allow for potential imprisonment.
It's unlikely that we'll ever see that in this country, but just talking about the possibility could remind Americans that, while voting is a privilege, it is also a duty of citizenship.