By Ken Reed

Chris Borland has walked away from the NFL after an excellent rookie season with the San Francisco 49’ers. The reason? Concerns about brain trauma.

He wasn’t the first. Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Sydney Rice and offensive lineman Jacob Bell of the Cincinnati Bengals walked away from the game prematurely, citing concerns about concussions and brain damage.

Borland was scheduled to make more than a half-million dollars in 2015 playing football. But he didn’t think that was worth risking his long-term health.

“I just honestly want to do what’s best for my health,” Borland told ESPN’s Outside the Lines.

“From what I’ve researched and what I’ve experienced, I don’t think it’s worth the risk … I just thought to myself, ‘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 know about the dangers?'”

What Borland did takes courage. Not so much because of the money he left behind, but because of the macho man culture he’s leaving. Being fearless, playing with pain, etc., are all part of the NFL culture … the football culture really, as the “just suck it up” attitude permeates high school and youth league football as well. Pulling away from that kind of mindset, especially at age 24, certainly couldn’t have been easy for Borland.

“It shows the macho culture of ‘destroy yourself for the game’ is losing its grip, that it’s no longer cool to question people’s toughness,” said Chris Nowinski, an expert on sports concussions who’s associated with Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. “That represent a big shift in thinking.”

Borland leaving a promising NFL career behind, and openly saying the reason for the move was his concern about the implications of constantly banging his head (it’s not just concussions, repetitive sub-concussive hits take their toll too), might make it easier for other players — at all levels of the game — to make the same decision.

“Obviously, guys will continue to play football,” tweeted ESPN football analyst Kirk Herbstreit. “But I guarantee the Borland early retirement gets the attention of a lot of moms and youth football.”

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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