By Shane Nicholson
With the retirement of San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland Monday a wave of analysis came crashing through the void left by his explanation for walking away: his health was worth more than any sum of money.
Borland was clear in his reasons to ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” when he 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.”
What he’s surely researched is the over 70 cases of progressive neurological disease seen the deaths of former players.
What he’s surely experienced during his brief NFL career and his time as a standout at the University of Wisconsin is the individual wear and tear the game exerts on a player’s body.
And what he’s done is simply analyze the information in front of him and made what he feels is the best decision for his quality of life.
“For me, it’s wanting to be proactive,” said Borland. “I’m concerned that if you wait until you have symptoms, it’s too late.”
He continued, “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.”
Here we have a young man entering the prime of his career, one tipped to replace an exiting legend in Patrick Willis who announced his retirement at age 30 just weeks ago.
But the discussion over Borland’s choice seems largely to miss the point. Yes, he has walked away from a chunk of change many of us will never see. He’s walked away from the spotlight of the NFL, from the endorsements and the adulation of fans.
And that just goes to show that Borland’s decision was not based on the professional options or the conduct of the NFL in denying its role in covering up effects head injuries. That point has been passed as study after study has drawn back the curtain.
No, Borland’s decision is reflective of a broadly changing landscape, one that is beginning to view football as an unacceptable risk to one’s health. And while the decision remains a wholly personal one, as we’ve seen with Jake Locker, Jason Worilds and now Borland it is becoming one more commonly taken.
The NFL will survive; there will always be another young man willing to risk his long term health and vitality for a shot at millions.
But the talent pool they have to draw from will continue to shrink as more people understand the dangers of the modern-day gladiator spectacle football has become.