Chris Borland admirably made the most difficult decision of his life, and it really doesn’t have to be more than that.
Borland announced his retirement from the NFL on Monday, walking away from the game at the ripe age of 24. He just finished his first season with the San Francisco 49ers and had a promising future with the Niners, especially after Patrick Willis’ recent surprise retirement.
Borland cited the growing issue of head injuries and concussions that come with football, as well as the debilitating physical and mental effects a life in football can have even after a full playing career has ended.
He deserves any and all praise for making this kind of decision. To genuinely question or even criticize a man’s decision to put his health and future in front of everything else would be out of place and insensitive. Sure, it’s surprising, but if Borland thinks the best decision for his long-term health and happiness is to walk away from money and fame, well, that takes a lot of guts.
But using Borland’s decision as a means to have bigger debates about the future of football just misses the point.
That still doesn’t stop some — like Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio — from moving the conversation in a certain direction instead of seeing this for what it really is, which is a man trying to make the best decision for his future.
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He’s right about one thing: Borland’s decision isn’t a tipping point. When there are millions and millions and millions of dollars involved, there’s no tipping point. There’s no revolution. Instead, there’s evolution and slow-moving change. We’re learning more and more every day about the effects football has on the body and brain, and it doesn’t paint a pretty picture.
That’s part of the reason the NFL has changed guidelines and rules in an attempt to limit head injuries. In the process, there’s been a groundswell of information. That’s the same information that, in part, led to Borland’s retirement. But you know what? The league’s better off with more Chris Borlands in coming years than having more Junior Seaus, Ray Easterlings and Dave Duersons — all of whom committed suicide after their playing days.
The NFL isn’t dying. It’s never going to die. It’s too big, too popular. The league will do fine without Borland. Despite all its warts — and there are plenty of of them, no matter what Roger Goodell or anyone else willing to die on the shield to do the NFL’s work wants us to think — we all love pro football too much to give up on it forever. That love and desire to consume the product will ensure the NFL doesn’t go anywhere. And for better or worse, for every Chris Borland, there are hundreds to thousands of football players across the country ready to fill his shoes.
Hopefully, those who want to turn Borland’s decision into a chance to further a debate can at least stop and recognize what Borland did took a lot of guts. For that, we should applaud him.
Thumbnail photo via Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY Sports Images