Typically, it’s assumed that athletes playing high-intensity contact sports have fearless personas. They are willing to exhaust themselves mentally and physically for a desirable result. This is the category that Chris Borland fit into as the former rookie linebacker of the San Francisco 49ers who was forced to walk away from the game for good due to the risk of playing with head trauma.
Leaving a sport could be caused by getting cut, reaching retirement age, or succumbing to an injury that holds you back from being the athlete you once were. Rarely is it the case that an athlete retires because they feel the requirements of the game are too much to handle, that the risks far outweigh the reward.
When Barry Sanders, one of the greatest running backs of all time, retired from football in 1999 after a 10-year career, it was a shock to many. Sanders was only 1,457 yards away from breaking the all-time rushing record, something he could have achieved playing in only one more season. His abrupt departure from the Detroit Lions caused speculation that he had been hurt, but now there’s insight that suggests he could have left because the game got too much for him; he desired a healthier and less anxious lifestyle.
In Borland’s athletic career, he suffered two diagnosed concussions and claims to have suffered more that went undiagnosed while playing for the University of Wisconsin football program and the San Francisco 49ers. Just because nobody saw Borland lying unconscious on a playing field doesn’t mean there are no residual effects from the minor injuries.
Borland left San Francisco and his football playing days at the age of 24, playing 14 games and receiving $617,436 in guaranteed money, negating a $2,927,436 total value contract. “I just honestly want to do what’s best for my health,” he said in his retirement speech. “From what I’ve researched and what I’ve experienced, I don’t think it’s worth the risk. I’m concerned that if you wait till you have symptoms, it’s too late.”
Maurice Clarett, former running back for the Ohio State Buckeyes and current educational speaker, entrepreneur, author, and philanthropist, supported Borland’s decisions in an enlightening Tweet. “Lots of guys don’t have a backup plan. They get shuffled through the college ranks and only see football as an option to succeed,” he said.
Many young men and woman grow up with the primary goal of becoming a professional athlete, allowing nothing to get in the way of their dreams. Most don’t apply themselves to their education, leaving them jobless after their career is complete.
Aaron Jervis, a third-year UTM student and CIS all-star defensive tackle for the Varsity Blues football team, sustained a concussion in late September. Following the head injury, Jervis separated himself from football for the remainder of the regular season. “I was not stable and did not possess the ability to retain information, nor process it,” he said. “Enduring a concussion hasn’t made me contemplate leaving the game. However, it seems that I am more conscious of my injury and slightly less aggressive in play. I am nervous that I may sustain another concussion.”
Jervis has followed the story of Chris Borland and his early retirement carefully. “Borland understands life after football and what must be done to ensure its quality,” he says.
Chris Borland doesn’t fear playing football; he fears the possibility that he won’t have the opportunity to develop a life outside the game. Football is just a game played for a short period of one’s life, but many people mistakenly define the essence of their being by it. Not to do so makes Borland, and anyone else who opts for their health, as courageous as any on the field.