On Wednesday, March 18th Chris Borland of the San Francisco 49ers retired from professional football, citing fear of future head injuries. This set off a flurry of discussion both on ESPN and Reddit (where it garnered 3000 upvotes, making it one of the most popular threads of the day).
I wanted to investigate how public discussion on the injury and concussions differed from discussion on the Media. To do this, I used a tool I’ve been working on for research inspired by Media Clouds. The tool compares in real time word clouds from Twitter vs AP news sources and tries to highlight differences. The tool is still in BETA so I was unable to give an interactive demo, but here is a screenshot:
On the left hand side is traditional news outlets, on the right is sources from twitter.
News sources seem to be covering Borland’s impressive career, including his college football record at Wisconsin. However, the discussion on Twitter is two-fold, one is expressing shock at the retirement and the second comparing him to Patrick Willis, another linebacker for the 49ers who retired only days earlier due to religious reasons. This aspect of the story is not covered very much in news outlets, but with Willis and Borland gone, 49ers fans have felt like their season has been derailed. Public discussion seems to focus more on the consequences to the 49ers season whereas news outlets are discussing the repercussions to the NFL as a whole.