Note: This is a column I wrote for Crunch Time this week
While college hoops and tournaments have been on everyone’s minds for the last couple of weeks, linebacker Chris Borland made headlines after he announced his retirement from professional football on “Outside the Lines,” after just one year with the San Francisco 49ers. His reasoning for leaving the sport of football revolves around his concerns with head trauma.
Borland, who came into the NFL after a successful career at the University of Wisconsin, played 14 games, had 84 solo tackles, two interceptions and one sack and became one of the more well-known defensive rookies of the 2014 season. Borland’s retirement comes as a surprise to many fans — and perhaps to the chagrin of San Francisco loyalists — as it came on the heels of fellow former 49er linebacker Patrick Willis’ announcement that he was going to depart from pro football after eight years on the gridiron.
Although Borland is returning three-quarters of his $617,436 signing bonus and forfeiting most of a four-year, nearly $3 million contract, his decision to leave pro football was not a difficult one.
“I mean, if it could potentially kill you — I know that’s a drastic way to put it, but it is a possibility — that really puts it in perspective to me,” Borland said in an interview with ESPN. “To me, it just wasn’t what I wanted to do.”
Borland added that he understands how some of his friends and critics would look at the situation and ask “why not play for one more year?” He said he didn’t want to get into a situation where he was negotiating his health for money.
“Who knows how many hits is too many?” he said.
We’re kind of seeing a trend of NFL players retiring at a younger age. Head trauma and concussions have been issue in violent sports, particularly football in the last several years. The NFL has made changes to the game to limit head-to-head contact but there’s only so much that rule changes can do.
It’s smart for these folks because if there’s a lingering health issue, they can take care of it before it gets worse.
Like all athletes who permanently leave their sport, retiring from football may take Borland some time to getting used to.
Los Angeles Laker Steve Nash, who formally announced his retirement March 21 in a letter to the Player’s Tribune, has been away from the NBA since he suffered a back injury during the preseason. In an interview with ESPN, Nash said he’ll have to get used to retirement.
“There is going to be a transition where I’m gonna have to become someone else, do something else, and that’s going to be tricky,” Nash said in the interview. “I don’t want to underestimate that, but I feel pretty good about it.”
Some fans look at Borland’s decision and say “well it’s a shame he’s retiring too soon” and wonder what his career would have been like had he decided to continue to play football.
As fans we sometimes ask too much of our favorite athletes. I’m not talking about when we’re sitting in the stands or on the couch and shouting what plays Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll should use when his team is inches away from the goal line or what strategies Manny Pacquiao should make in preparation for his upcoming fight against Floyd Mayweather. I’m talking when we look at an athlete’s life choices. I’m talking about when fans criticize the type of car an athlete is driving, who they are dating or what they had for dinner.
If an athlete is making poor life choices, such as getting into drugs and alcohol, that’s one thing, but why do we feel the need to control someone’s destiny. Sure, we want what’s best for our favorite athlete. We love to say, “I hope my guy/girl goes out on top” but really it’s not up to us to decide when an athlete like Borland rides off into the sunset. It’s up to the player — along with some well-heeded advice from doctors, as well as input from coaches and family members.
Borland may be like some fans and wonder what his NFL career would have been like, but I’m sure he’ll also be thankful that he didn’t stay around longer to see his health deteriorate in his golden years.