Chris Borland made a stunning announcement Monday, telling ESPN that he will be retiring from the NFL after an outstanding rookie season. The 49ers linebacker told “Outside the Lines” that he was concerned about the possible effects that head injuries could have on his quality of life.
Borland said he began to have misgivings during training camp. He said he sustained what he believed to be a concussion stuffing a running play but played through it, in part because he was trying to make the team.“I just thought to myself, ‘What am I doing? 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?'”He said the issue “gathered steam” as the season progressed. Before the fourth game of the preseason, at Houston, he wrote a letter to his parents informing them that he thought his career in the NFL would be brief because of his concerns about the potential long-term effects of head injuries.After the season, Borland said, he consulted with prominent concussion researchers and former players to affirm his decision. He also scheduled baseline tests to monitor his neurological well-being going forward “and contribute to the greater research.” After thinking through the potential repercussions, Borland said the decision was ultimately “simple.”
Borland had 107 tackles, two interceptions, a sack and a fumble recovery during an impressive rookie season, one that included an NFL Defensive Player of the Week nod. A third-round pick out of Wisconsin, the linebacker had already figured prominently into the 49ers’ plans, but never more so than following Willis’s retirement, and now the team must scramble to replace both players.
By retiring, Borland is walking away from a four-year contract worth just under $3 million. However, his retirement for essentially precautionary reasons is another indication of the growing concern among NFL players over the effects of repeated head trauma, as numerous studies have suggested a link between the violence of football and debilitating brain injuries such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
“I feel largely the same, as sharp as I’ve ever been. For me, it’s wanting to be proactive,” Borland told ESPN. “I’m concerned that if you wait till you have symptoms, it’s too late. … There are a lot of unknowns. I can’t claim that X will happen. I just want to live a long healthy life, and I don’t want to have any neurological diseases or die younger than I would otherwise.”
Appears like some NFL players are starting to believe that life changing $ is only worth it if there's a significant life to live.— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) March 17, 2015
To say Borland's retirement is stunning would be an understatement. You're looking at the next great LB in the NFL. Retires after 1 season.— Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) March 17, 2015
Borland news may not lead to more players retiring early but may lead to less players inclined to hide and play through head trauma.— Andrew Brandt (@AndrewBrandt) March 17, 2015
The other 30-and-under NFL players who have retired recently are the Steelers’ Jason Worilds, the Titans’ Jake Locker and the Raiders’ Maurice Jones-Drew. Worilds reportedly wants to devote his life to his faith; Locker said that he had lost the necessary “burning desire” to play (and could try out baseball); and Jones-Drew, after gaining just 96 yards on 43 carries last season, apparently decided that his nine-year career had run its course.