A Promising NFL Star Calls It Quits, Citing Brain Trauma Concerns

Chris Borland brain injury

Photo Credit: Stròlic Furlàn by Davide Gabino Liscenced under CC BY 2.0

As a rookie linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers last season, Chris Borland racked up 107 tackles in just 14 games. One of the NFL’s most promising first-year defenders, Borland was signed to a four-year, $2.9 million contract. The chiseled 250-pounder out of Wisconsin exceeded expectations and was a finalist for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He had an incredibly promising pro football career ahead of him.

But the most important statistic to Borland wasn’t one you’ll find in a box score. In a stunning decision, Borland, just 24, retired from the NFL on Tuesday. He directly cited the long-term effect of repeated head trauma from playing professional football as the reason why he chose to end his budding career. Borland suffered two concussions as a youth athlete.

“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.” 

Borland’s retirement, which shocked the NFL community and made headlines across the country, was based on research from concussion experts, conversations with family and teammates, and his own knowledge on the correlation between playing football and neurodegenerative disease in the brain.

‘If You Wait ‘til You Have Symptoms, It’s Too Late’

Expected to be a key part of the 49ers defense this coming season and years to come, Borland is retiring at a time when a handful of other players are also stepping away from football, citing injury risks. Borland, however, is both the youngest to retire and the most candid about his concerns. By stepping away from the game, Borland reinforces what doctors and researchers have long said: that repeated head trauma on the football field can cause long-term brain damage. 

Unlike some other players who have retired after suffering vicious injuries, Borland has not recently been diagnosed with a terrible injury.

“For me, it’s wanting to be proactive. I’m concerned that if you wait ‘til you have symptoms, it’s too late,” Borland told ESPN. “… 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.”

Evidence has long been mounting linking hits to the head on the football field with long-term cognitive damage. We here at the Brain Injury Law Center have been documenting the association with head injuries and football.

Both of Borland’s concussions came well before his NFL career began — one in eighth grade while playing soccer, and another while playing football in high school. But Borland and many other players believe they may have suffered concussions that may have gone undiagnosed. Hundreds of former players have filed successful lawsuits against the NFL regarding brain injuries and how the league handled them.

Players and Parents Are Weighing the Risks

NFL brain injuriesAs football leagues from the NFL on down to Pop Warner seek to curb concussions, increasing evidence on the severity of football-related head trauma has convinced many parents to take their children out of the sport.

Of course, not every football player will suffer the most serious forms of head trauma. But Borland’s retirement reinforces the importance of knowing the risks and weighing them before you decide whether you or your child should continue playing.

There continues to be growing evidence of the correlation between the severe degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and repeated concussions. CTE has become one of the most well-known serious consequences of repeated brain trauma in NFL players. The more blows to the head, the more brain tissue is damaged. As a result, an abnormal protein called tau, which is linked to degenerative brain diseases, builds up.

Other studies have found that risk of death from Alzheimer’s and ALS is four times higher in NFL players than in the general population. Retired football players have also been found to suffer more frequently from depression.

While speaking about his abrupt retirement, Borland spoke of two former players who committed suicide, possibly from the fallout from brain injuries suffered on the field.

“I just though 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?”

We here at the Brain Injury Law Center urge you to take Borland’s retirement as a reminder that everyone, even current NFL stars, should weigh the risks of playing football versus the potential fallout from head injuries.

If you have concerns, know that you’re certainly not alone, and that there are experts out there waiting to help. 

We Know Brain Injuries

Whether the injury occurred on the football field or off, if someone you love has suffered a brain injury, you’re suffering as well. You’re wondering what’s next. You want some peace of mind. Hiring a brain injury lawyer to seek compensation for you and your family may be the best step you can take.

At the Brain Injury Law Center, we have developed an unparalleled record of success built on the passion of our founder and director, Stephen M. Smith. He is consulted by lawyers across the country when they handle brain injury cases.

If you would like to discuss your case with us, call us when you’re ready at (877) 537-4340 or email us by using the form on this page. There’s no cost and no obligation. It’s the first step toward getting your family the help you need.  

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