You can't put a price on health. That's the conclusion San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland reached last week, retiring after his rookie campaign due to fears that repeated head trauma would have long-lasting health effects.
He told ESPN's "Outside the Lines" that it was fundamentally a precautionary measure.
"I just honestly want to do what's best for my health," he said. "From what I've researched and what I've experienced, I don't think it's worth the risk."
Given the lucrative figures attached to NFL contracts, the decision may represent a sacrifice in financial terms. But the costs associated with waiting until it's too late were too great in Borland's mind.
"I feel largely the same, as sharp as I've ever been," Borland added. "For me, it's wanting to be proactive. I'm concerned that if you wait 'til you have symptoms, it's too late ... There are a lot of unknowns. I can't claim that X will happen. I just want to live a long, healthy life, and I don't want to have any neurological diseases or die younger than I would otherwise."
There's a growing awareness about the connections between playing football and long-term degenerative problems. It's not entirely surprising given the sport's physical nature, but researchers have only recently been able to quantify the problem and understand its origins.
According to ESPN, "More than 70 former players have been diagnosed with progressive neurological disease after their deaths, and numerous studies have shown connections between the repetitive head trauma associated with football, brain damage and issues such as depression and memory loss."
The 49ers organization has taken Borland's decision in stride, though it will almost certainly affect its offseason plans. The 24-year-old was to figure prominently in San Francisco's defense, which makes the decision all the more noteworthy. Borland was in the prime of his career.
But he'd suffered two concussions — one in eighth grade and the other in high school — and the risk of more trauma in the especially physical NFL game was too great a risk for Borland.
It remains to be seen whether other prominent NFL players will follow suit. No other major players have quit the game due to such concerns so early in their careers.