SAN FRANCISCO—Monday’s announcement that 49ers linebacker Chris Borland was retiring from the NFL begged the universal question: “Why?”
In his rookie season, the Wisconsin product took the NFL by storm and was set to take the place of the retired Patrick Willis.
He was sure to be a Pro Bowl linebacker, make millions of dollars, maybe even win a ring or two. So why throw it all away?
“I just thought to myself, ‘What am I doing?'”, Borland told ESPN’s Outside the Lines. “Is this how I’m going to live my adult life, banging my head, especially with what I’ve learned and know about the dangers?”
Ultimately, the fear of the long-term effects of brain injury pushed Borland away from his NFL dream, an outcome the linebacker had been considering as early as his rookie training camp, in which he believes he suffered a concussion, an injury he played-through in order to make the San Francisco roster.
“I feel largely the same, as sharp as I’ve ever been. For me, it’s wanting to be proactive. I’m concerned that if you wait ’til 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.”
Cautionary tales of men such as Dave Duerson and Ray Easterling pushed Borland even further away from his NFL dream. Duerson and Easterling, both NFL greats, were diagnosed with the devastating neurological disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a diagnosis both received by way of post-suicide autopsy.
At just 24, Borland is the first player in the prime of his career to step aside due to concussion concerns. Some predict that he will be the first of many, that the linebacker will inspire other gridiron warriors to cease using their skulls as weapons and walk away from promises of fame and fortune.
Just don’t expect this revolution to happen anytime soon.
Boys will be boys, and the allure of a professional athlete’s lifestyle will always attract young, talented, and reckless boys. Just ask Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner, who took to Twitter to voice his opinion on Borland’s retirement.
“No offense to anyone, but I’m playing until I can’t anymore,” Wagner wrote. “I love this game too much.”
It’s difficult to fault Borland or Wagner for their opposing stances. Their is an irrefutable, immense risk involved in an NFL career.
And yet, for some, the glorious sprint will remain irresistible.
Chris Borland was simply the first to determine he had more to play for.