A 24-year-old player who just completed a successful rookie year with the San Francisco 49ers has decided to call off the rest of his professional football career.
Chris Borland has decided to say goodbye to the money, glory, and opportunities to compete for the next 10 to 12 years. Borland was on the fast track to stardom after a season in which he was the third-leading tackler among rookies.
Borland has read all the signs and lived through the experience of preparing to play football every year going back to his childhood and he has decided that playing the sport is not worth the long-term risk to his health.
Borland’s decision is similar to the ones made by former teammate Patrick Willis, Pittsburgh linebacker Jason Worilds, and Tennessee quarterback Jake Locker in the last few weeks. All of those players decided they wanted to leave the NFL rather than get a chance to see their brains damaged by head shots they would take in upcoming seasons.
But there are two major differences with Borland. He played just one season in the NFL, and it was all out in front of him. To retire at this point is even more shocking, because Borland was one of the most enthusiastic and energetic players prior to last year’s NFL draft.
Borland, out of the University of Wisconsin, was not just going into the NFL draft last year because he was a talented player and athlete who had excelled at the college level. His love for the game came across in every drill he ran and in every team interview he gave prior to the draft.
Borland was not just going into the NFL with the hope that he could make an impact and help his team win. He knew exactly how good he was and he had a gameplan for success.
The 49ers were convinced that Borland was going to be productive right from the start and they drafted him in the third round. He exceeded all expectations by leading the team in tackles with 107 in 14 games, along with seven passes defensed and two interceptions.
The 49ers, stunned by Willis’s retirement earlier in the offseason, had slated Borland to start in his place and take over as the leader of the team’s linebackers.
Borland was quite direct as to his reason for leaving. He said that he does not have symptoms associated with long-term head injuries at this point, and he doesn’t want to risk getting them.
“I feel largely the same, as sharp as I’ve ever been, for me it’s wanting to be proactive,” Borland said. “I’m concerned that if you wait till you have symptoms, it’s too late.
“I’ve thought about what I could accomplish in football, but for me personally, when you read about Mike Webster and Dave Duerson and Ray Easterling, you read all these stories and to be the type of player I want to be in football, I think I’d have to take on some risks that as a person I don’t want to take on.”
A young star on the rise has decided to leave the NFL and all its glory. It is news today and it will impact the 49ers for several seasons.
But as far as long-term impact on the NFL is concerned, there is not as much as you might think. There is no panic on Park Avenue in New York City because a young stud has decided to leave.
For all the talk of head injuries, concussions and CTE, high school football is still thriving and college football has never been bigger.
There are plenty of players to take Borland’s place.
That may not be the case in 10 years or 15 years, but not now. The NFL is researching and studying the impact of head injuries, and that’s a positive development.
But the public relations value of the studies is more impactful than the actual value. The NFL can say, “look how much we are doing.” And the rule changes, practice changes and overall awareness of concussion-related issues are significant.
However, football players are still getting hurt and today’s players will suffer the same deficits – perhaps even more – than their predecessors.
These issues won’t get solved overnight.
The shock waves of a young star like Borland deciding to retire will be forgotten shortly. These recent retirement decisions are mere annoyances to the NFL. The league will continue to make the right public relations moves, but Roger Goodell is not staying up nights because Borland has decided to walk away.
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