Chris Borland’s Early Retirement

March 19, 2015

3 min read


The football player is really using his head.

It would seem like a no-brainer (no pun intended and you will see why!): Chris Borland, 24, a young, prominent football player, is walking away from the game. What amazes some die-hard fans and players is that he could walk away from the game at all! But what stuns others is that he is walking away from potential millions in earnings. It is not sour grapes; it’s not “I’ll fire them before they fire me.” He’s a good player with a bright future in the game should he choose to stay. He is a widely sought after and talented young man. He would have been snapped up – and paid a lot. Yet he is choosing to walk away from the money.

He is also walking away from the pleasure of the game, from the rewards of being successful, from the adulation of the fans and teammates and coaches. What could possibly be the reason for such a dramatic decision? Mr. Borland is in excellent health and his prospects seem bright. Yet he came to a definitive decision. “From what I’ve researched and what I’ve experienced, I don’t think it’s worth the risk,” explained Mr. Borland who has already suffered a number of concussions.

Now that the connection between concussions and future brain damage has been demonstrated incontrovertibly, Chris Borland is saying no. He is saying that a healthy mind is worth more to him that present and future earnings. Again, this seems like a no-brainer. And yet it’s big news.

Because almost no one else does it. Yes there are few more early retirees this season and perhaps this medical issue has played a factor in their decisions as well. But for every retiree, I can’t even begin to guess the number of young men lined up eager to take his place, eager to risk it all (and I’m not speaking metaphorically) to play the game they love and earn the big bucks.

I don’t mean to minimize their choices. I understand love of the game. I love it myself (although I can’t explain it rationally and I’ve given up trying! A beautiful pass and catch, an amazing long run, a kickoff return – I could wax poetic about the creativity, skill and excitement!). But the risk just seems too great. It was one thing to start smoking before we knew it causes cancer but it’s hard to comprehend why anyone would start now. The same is true with football. Although I never played pro ball, I can imagine the high, the excitement, the thrills. (And the paycheck.)

The future seems so distant. I’m 24; I can’t worry now about brain damage in my sixties. Yet that is exactly what Chris Borland is doing. He’s doing something that almost no one his age ever does or is even capable of doing. He’s fulfilling the sages’ maxim: Who is the wise man? The one who foresees the consequences. He’s looking down the road and he doesn’t like where it takes him. So he’s turning off now.

Some part of me would hate to see the end of football. But the saner, more logical part says there’s no choice. How can I participate in allowing these young men to risk their precious brains? How can they? Thank you Chris Borland for not just recognizing there are more important things than money (easy to talk about and acknowledge) but actually doing something about it.

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