Super Bowl LIV: Former 49ers Player Claims Football Is Popular ‘Because It’s Violent’ in Netflix Documentary

The NFL has received a lot of criticism over the past few years, amid its various scandals. The recent Netflix docuseries Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez threw the football league back under heavy scrutiny. Now that the Super Bowl 2020 is upon us, the stain on the face of the NFL is growing larger, and more noticeable–due in part to the documentary.

The Mind of Aaron Hernandez tells the story of former Patriots star Aaron Hernandez. The tight end was convicted of a murder, and eventually, tragically died by suicide. In the series, several football players, sports journalists, and attorneys spoke about the pressure on NFL athletes (from coaches, owners, fans, etc.) and what that means for their health and livelihood. For Hernandez, it meant a post-mortum diagnosed case of CTE.

Netflix docuseries ‘Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez’ (who played in the Super Bowl in 2012) makes some bold claims against NFL teams and coaches

Aaron Hernandez in the Super Bowl
Aaron Hernandez #81 of the New England Patriots during Super Bowl XLVI in 2012 | Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Hernandez’s awful end, in addition to stories of other players plagued by CTE, has caused many in the sports industry to reconsider. Cris Carter said on First Things First:

I knew Aaron Hernandez from Bristol Connecticut, an All-American. And to think this is a game that we encourage young people to play and the end result was that, I’m conflicted. I really am.

However, Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez, does not claim that CTE automatically leads to murder.

“We’ve never seen an NFL guy in the middle of his success go out and start murdering people,” journalist Dan Wetzel explains. The NFL, and the brain trauma caused by football, are not solely to blame, of course.

“But,” Wetzel says, “would Aaron Hernandez be in this situation if he were a concert pianist? Probably not.”

49ers player Chris Borland says the violence in football is why it’s so popular

In the Netflix series, former NFL player Chris Borland says the symptoms of concussions happened to him weekly as a college and pro player. Borland said there were the classic signs: “ringing in the ears, imbalance,” etc.

Chris Borland of the NFL
San Francisco 49ers player Chris Borland in 2014 \ Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

“Then I really began to question my role in the NFL,” he says. Borland decided to leave the NFL after only one season with the 49ers. (The 49ers are playing in the Super Bowl 2020).

“Ultimately, I decided it was brain health first,” he explains. The NFL continues to claim they are implementing safer and healthier practices.

“Our game has never been more exciting, has never been more competitive, and I don’t think it’s ever been safer,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell claimed in a TV interview. However, several in the Netflix doc disagree.

Several times throughout Killer InsideThe Mind of Aaron Hernandez, former players accuse their trainers and coaches of giving them or other players painkillers before games. Injured teammates y claimed, were given the drugs so they could participate in the game.

Why? Because football players are assets; they’re worth millions, This means that NFL teams are incentivized to put hurt players in–even if it may be bad for their long-term health. This is especially the case, they claim, when it comes to big games like championships–and of course, the Super Bowl.

“It’s all about the business of football,” lawyer George Leontire claims in the docuseries, “and very little to do with what ultimately become an expended asset of the business, which are these players, in the end.”

“I think there’s a certain degree of hubris,” Borland says of the NFL leadership. “They own a day of the week. Football is a religion.”

Super Bowl
MIA The San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs prior to Super Bowl LIV | Elsa/Getty Images

What does this mean for the Super Bowl 2020? It’s more than just commercials and the halftime show

Many football fans love the Super Bowl: either for the sport itself, the parties, the food, the ads, you name it. But the giant sporting event has a shadow that is slowly creeping over the glitz. This year it seems to be moving faster, with the recent release of the Netflix documentary about Aaron Hernandez. With all of the intense, critical first-person testimonials from current and former football players in the series, it’s difficult to come out it seeing the NFL in a good light. Between the political dispute around Colin Kaepernick and the accusations of cheating by high-profile teams in the past few years, the league has a lot to prove about its own legitimacy.

Borland maintains that any public announcements about safety don’t mean much.

“No matter whether or not they’re throwing a flag or claiming concussions are down, or taking players into the blue tent,” Borland says, “the reason football is the most popular sport is because it’s violent.” It’s a powerful, dark argument.

Chris Borland, super bowl
: Chris Borland | Barry Brecheisen/Getty Images

“They’re not in the health business, they’re in the violence business,” Borland says in the Aaron Hernadez series.

It will be interesting to see if the Super Bowl will address any of these issues. Or if, at the very least, the NFL will do more in 2020 to address concerns about CTE.

How to get help: In the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or text HOME to 741-741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor at the free Crisis Text Line.