Chris Borland, the 24-year-old top rookie linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers, has announced that he will retire due to health concerns–specifically, the concern that a career’s worth of collisions will destroy it, reports ESPN.
“I feel largely the same, as sharp as I’ve ever been. For me, it’s wanting to be proactive,” Borland said on the network’s Outside the Lines broadcast Monday evening. “I’m concerned that if you wait till you have symptoms, it’s too late.”
“There are a lot of unknowns,” 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.”
What might be heartbreaking for 49er fans could save Borland’s life, or at least preserve its quality. More than 70 former players have been diagnosed with progressive neurological disease after their deaths, says ESPN, all due to the brutal collisions in the game. And the fact that we haven’t created equipment to prevent this injury is a good indicator that we really can’t. “In a car crash, you stop in a matter of feet. In an NFL impact, you stop in inches,” an expert told Fast Company in January 2013. The best we’ve done so far is to create equipment that detects when concussions may have occurred.
That lack of progress has led to questions about whether we need to change the way football is played. As senior Fast Company writer Chuck Salter puts it, one in three NFL players will have cognitive problems down the road because the nature of the game involves butting heads:
The NFL has attempted to skirt the issue, but it’s erupted into a scandal as more career players develop degenerative brain damage. This has led the league to take tentative steps toward exploring the issue, such as convening a head injury summit with GE back in 2013, but so far it has been largely been media leading the charge. (It doesn’t help the league’s case when the president says he wouldn’t let his son play pro football.)
Borland doesn’t claim to have been injured already–he’s leaving to prevent potential future injuries, he told ESPN:
“I’ve thought about what I could accomplish in football, but for me, personally, when you read about Mike Webster and Dave Duerson and Ray Easterling,” Borland said, referring to former NFL players who were diagnosed with the devastating brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, after their deaths. (Duerson and Easterling committed suicide.) “And to be the type of player I want to be in football, I think I’d have to take on some risks that, as a person, I don’t want to take on.”