The NFL universe was in shock last week over former San Francisco 49ers middle linebacker Patrick Willis and his decision to retire after a stellar eight-year career. Since Willis made his decision, another member of the Niners decided to move on from the game. This time, it was linebacker Chris Borland.
Borland is just 24 years of age and has played just one season in the league. His reason for retiring: safety. Borland is deeply concerned for his health in reference to long-term head trauma. While this leaves the 49ers extremely shorthanded on the defensive side of the ball, the story here pertains to player safety.
Concussion history has been getting more and more severe every season, especially after the death of one of the league’s all-time greats, Junior Seau. Seau died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound that he delivered due to his suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. CTE is a form of brain damage that has been found in other NFL players that are now deceased. For those that truly know what happened to Junior Seau, it makes complete sense why a young linebacker as talented as Borland is would decide to walk away this early in his career.
In his interview with Outside the Lines on ESPN, Borland said:
“I just honestly want to do what’s best for my health. From what I’ve researched and what I’ve experienced, I don’t think it’s worth the risk.”
Many players from around the league are taking to social media to voice their thoughts on Borland’s decision. Some have decided to see the decision from his perspective and agree that health and safety need to be a top priority.
Others like Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner have taken a different stance, stating that they will “play until they can’t play anymore” and cite the love for the game of football as motivation for doing so.
While Wagner’s standpoint is admirable, I simply do not agree with him. Borland has recognized that there are numerous risks that come along with the fame and fortune of playing in the NFL, and he has made an educated decision in regards to those risks. In order for Borland to continue his NFL career, he’d be choosing the risks of future head trauma and the effects that come with it over a potentially healthy and long life.
Borland joins Willis, Jake Locker and Jason Worilds as players to retire this year not having played a snap at 30 years old. Cortland Finnegan retired at 31. Sidney Rice made headlines after winning the Super Bowl with the Seahawks last season by announcing his retirement. He was just 27.
It’s certainly a minority decision at this point, but it’s still a decision to take note of–that decision being the one to walk away from the game early.
Will more and more players retire at an early age? What steps will the NFL take to reassure players, parents and children that the sport is safe and will continue getting safer? Whether you agree with Borland’s decision or not, these are certainly questions the league is facing.
There is simply no way this decision was as easy for Borland to make as fans of the sport may believe. The road to the NFL is unbelievably long and excruciatingly painful. He would not be making this decision unless he was absolutely sure. Especially in regards to his age, he is giving up a lifetime of financial stability potential fame to salvage his future.
That, to me, is incredibly respectful.