Joe Borich was not your typical athlete. Borich, a two-sport star at Murray High School, originally began his college career at the University of Utah as a member of the Utah Men’s Basketball team. His freshman year, Borich was the second-leading scorer behind the eventual number-one NBA Draft pick Billy McGill, according to the Deseret News on Dec. 3, 2000. That is when the football team came calling. “I was shooting hoops one day in the Einar Nelson Fieldhouse, and the football trainer came in and said coach [Ray] Nagel wanted my butt on the football field,” Borich told the Deseret News. That’s when Borich became a two-sport star for the Utes.
Borich would go on to have an impressive career for the University of Utah football team. Borich finished his career with seven receiving touchdowns, including five in the 1961 season, according to Ute Stats. In today’s game of football, five touchdown catches is hardly an impressive feat, in fact, in 2018 the leading receiver in the country, John Ursua, caught 16 touchdowns according to Sports-Reference, more than three times that of Joe Borich in 1961. However, in the era of football in the 1960s, passing had yet to be used frequently by football teams. Most receivers were lucky to finish their career with a single touchdown, making Borich’s five in 1961, the sixth-most by any player in the country that season according to Sports-Reference.
Borich would never go on to play professional football, although the chances were there for the Utah star. Instead, Borich would go on to join the Army Reserve, being stationed in California, before becoming a Police Officer for Salt Lake County, according to the Deseret News on Dec. 3, 2000.
While Borich never played football beyond the college level, the sport continued to be a staple in the Borich household. Borich’s son, Mike Borich, would go on to play for Snow College before working as an assistant coach for BYU and eventually the NFL’s Chicago Bears, according to ESPN on October 22, 2009. Football was life for much of the Borich family until it took the life of one of them.
According to Mike Borich’s obituary, the eldest of Joe Borich’s two sons died on Feb. 9, 2009, at his home in Midvale, Utah, at the age of 42. Much like Joe Borich would be one of the first receivers to find success in the game of college football, his son Mike’s death would prove to be a groundbreaking occurrence for the sport.
Eight months following the death of Mike Borich, ESPN reported that the Boston University School of Medicine had found signs of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in the brain of Mike Borich. It was the first time that CTE had been found in a player who did not play beyond the college football level. According to the Boston University CTE Research Center, “(CTE) is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma (often athletes), including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head that do not cause symptoms. CTE has been known to affect boxers since the 1920s. In recent years, reports have been published of neuropathologically confirmed CTE found in other athletes, including football and hockey players (playing and retired), as well as in military veterans who have a history of repetitive brain trauma.”
Mike Borich’s death led to increased awareness of CTE and the effects that it can have on those who suffer from it. But while his death was just the start of CTE awareness in sports, it was the end of a struggle for the Borich family. According to the Denver Post, Joe Borich found relief in the CTE diagnosis in his son as it provided some answers for Mike’s peculiar behavior and subsequent drug addiction in the years leading to his death.
Joe Borich was an accomplished athlete and someone who gave a large portion of his young life to the game of football. But while football gave Borich so much in his life, it has also taken away a large part of it. He once was a groundbreaking athlete, finding success on the football field in ways that were decades ahead of his time. But it may be a groundbreaking occurrence in his life off of the field that has a more lasting impact on his life and the life of others who take part in the sport of football. As researchers and doctors continue to study CTE and look for ways to negate the effects that head trauma can have on a person, Borich recognized the significance of his son’s death and the positive impact it can have.
Recently CTE was discovered in 110 of 111 brains of former professional football players, according to The New York Times, July 25, 2017, and it is believed that at least 9.6% of NFL players will suffer from CTE, according to a recent study (Binney and Bachynski). Joe Borich recognized that the death of his son could provide knowledge about the disease and increase awareness about the dangers of CTE. “If this study can help somehow progress the knowledge, it’s worth it,” he said (Denver Post).
Hunter Miller is a senior at the University of Utah majoring in communication. Hunter is also a reporter for ESPN 960 covering BYU Athletics.
“Athletic Borich leads by example,” The Deseret News, December 3, 2000.
“Joe Borich,” Ute Stats.
“Degenerative disease found in donated brain of former college player,” Denver Post, May 6, 2016.
“Player’s brain shows signs of CTE,” ESPN, October 22, 2009.
“Frequently Asked Questions About CTE,” Boston University Research: CTE Center.
“Mike Joe Borich,” Legacy.com, February 11, 2009.
“110 N.F.L. Brains,” The New York Times, July 25, 2017.
Zachary O. Binney and Kathleen E. Bachynski, “Estimating the prevalence at death of CTE neuropathology among professional football players,” Neurology 92, no. 1 (January 1, 2019).
“Joe Borich,” SportsReference.com.
“2018 College Football Year Summary,” SportsReference.com.