San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland will retire after just one season in the league, the player told ESPN's Outside The Lines on Monday. Borland is retiring due to long-term health concerns, particularly related to head trauma.
"I just honestly want to do what's best for my health," Borland told Outside The Lines, "From what I've researched and what I've experienced, I don't think it's worth the risk."
Borland is just 24 years old and is coming off a rookie campaign in which he was expected to primarily play special teams, but was ultimately pressed into duty helping fill in for Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Despite the fact that Willis and Bowman are among the best linebackers in the NFL, Borland filled in well and was slated for a starting role this season, especially after Willis elected to call it a career and retire as well.
"I feel largely the same, as sharp as I've ever been, for me it's wanting to be proactive," said Borland. "I'm concerned that if you wait till 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."
Borland notified the 49ers of his impending retirement on Friday, according to ESPN. The decision was reached after consulting with "family members, concussion researchers, friends and current and former teammates," as well as studying the "relationship between football and neurodegenerative disease."
"While unexpected, we certainly respect Chris' decision," said 49ers general manager Trent Baalke in a statement on Monday evening, "From speaking with Chris, it was evident that he had put a great deal of thought into this decision. He was a consummate professional from day one and a very well respected member of our team and community. Chris is a determined young man that overcame long odds in his journey to the NFL and we are confident he will use the same approach to become very successful in his future endeavors. We will always consider him a 49er and wish him all the best."
This is a high-profile retirement, joining the likes of those made by Willis, former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds and quarterback Jake Locker this offseason. What's notable about Borland is that he's retiring due to safety concerns above all else, while someone like Willis retired to pursue other ventures.
Willis' retirement played no part in Borland's decision, according to ESPN. Borland also said that his success from a season ago didn't make the decision any tougher. He mentioned former NFL players who were diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, after their deaths, and how he would have to "take on some risks that as a person I don't want to take on" to reach their level of play.
CTE is at center stage when it comes to the long-term effects of playing in the NFL. It's a disease that is thought to occur in those who sustain repeated head injuries, including concussions, and can result in symptoms such as mood changes and mental decline later in life. Unfortunately, CTE is only reliably diagnosed posthumously, but multiple studies are learning more and more about the disease every day.
The NFL recently came to a massive settlement with former players suing the league over concussions and other health issues. The league is frequently trying to crack down on helmet-to-helmet hits, the way teams handle concussions and illegal plays in general but it obviously has a long way to go before it can ever be considered "safe."
For the 49ers, they now have NaVorro Bowman and Michael Wilhoite as likely starters at the inside linebacker position going forward.