Not Larger Than Life: Chris Borland’s Retirement Reminds Us Football Is Just a Game

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Chris Borland is 24 years old. He is also an NFL retiree as of Monday. He wasn’t some fringe player, either. Last year (his rookie season), he tallied over 100 tackles despite not starting the first 6 games of the year (and missing the last two with an ankle injury). He had just completed the first year of a 4-year contract expected to pay him just under $3 million, yet he walked away despite having no assignable injuries, off-field issues, or reason to expect his role would do anything but increase with time. So what gives?

Chris Borland is 24 years old. That means (if we use this calculator) he has an expected 58 years of life ahead of him. Let’s assume he would’ve had a 10-season career in the NFL. That’d be another 9 years, still leaving him 49 years after football. The problem is that we’ve seen lately that the quality of life for many players—particularly those playing high-contact positions—after leaving the NFL isn’t just bad, it’s worse than death. Junior Seau, Ray Easterling, Dave Duerson, three former NFL players, each committing suicide, each found to have evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) on autopsy. Overall, more than 70 former players have been diagnosed with CTE on autopsy.

Chris Borland is 24 years old. He’s also a college graduate and has made around $1 million from his single season in the NFL (no word on whether he will have to return a portion of his signing bonus). He has plenty of time to find a new career, one that preferably doesn’t involve slamming his head repeatedly and live comfortably with his family. In his own words, “From what I’ve researched and what I’ve experienced, I don’t think [football is] worth the risk.” And why should it be? Yes, the pay is certainly nice as an NFL player, but if it comes at the price of depression, memory loss, and other sequelae of brain damage, can you really fault a guy for deciding that’s not what he wants from life?

Chris Borland is 24 years old. He’s had two diagnosed concussions in his life, and suspects he’s forced himself to play through at least one more. Eventually, he asked himself the tough questions: “What am I doing? Is this how I’m going to live my adult life, banging my head, especially with what I’ve learned and knew about the dangers?” It appears he’s found the answer.

Chris Borland is 24 years old. But his decision to retire from the NFL shows wisdom beyond his years. He now has the rest of his life ahead of him to do what he pleases. I hope he finds great success and happiness in whatever he chooses.

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