The NFL world was stunned in the late hours of Monday when it lost one of its best up and coming players – not to a career-ending injury, but to voluntary retirement.
In an interview with Outside The Lines, San Francisco 49ers' rookie linebacker Chris Borland announced he is hanging up his boots after just one season in the NFL. The 24-year-old isn't the first athlete of his standing to sever ties with the sport he always dreamt of playing, but it's his reasoning that has fans and pundits worried.
Borland is quitting because he is concerned that playing football professionally may lead him to develop the dreaded chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is quite common in individuals with history of multiple concussions. He has had two concussions in his youth, and considering that now there is definitive proof that a prolonged career in the NFL raises the risk of CTE three times, Borland has decided it's not worth it.
"I just honestly want to do what's best for my health," Borland said. "From what I've researched and what I've experienced, I don't think it's worth the risk.
"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 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."
Borland wasn't a star yet, but his stock was rising – especially after the rookie season he had with the 49ers in which he 108 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 interceptions in just 8 starts. By quitting, he has left potential superstardom and millions of dollars on the table so he could lead a healthier life.
The loss is not just the 49ers, but the entire NFL fraternity is in shock, because Borland became the third 20 something NFLer to quit the game for one reason or another in the past seven days. In 2013, the NFL did establish a $765 million settlement fund for ex-players suffering from traumatic brain injuries, but it still hasn't done much to make the game safer in future.
The league's policies on the matter are unclear, and if it remains that way, there could be more people like Borland who may decide that while football is their dream, if its pursuit comes at the cost of personal well-being, it's better to walk away.