49ers second-year linebacker Chris Borland has decided to retire from football. The highly talented and rising-star cited the concern over concussions for his decision.
Borland, 24, said he notified the 49ers on Friday. He said he made his decision after consulting with family members, concussion researchers, friends and current and former teammates, as well as studying what is known about the relationship between football and neurodegenerative disease.
"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."
"I feel largely the same, as sharp as I've ever been. For me, it's wanting to be proactive," Borland said. "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."
This is obviously shocking news, and on a macro level, again raises the discussion surrounding head injuries and their impact on the long-term viability of the sport. With more research into the connection between concussions and brain disease being conducted, Borland came to the conclusion that NFL stardom wasn't worth the risk.
"I've thought about what I could accomplish in football, but for me, personally, when you read about Mike Webster and Dave Duerson and Ray Easterling, you read all these stories, and to be the type of player I want to be in football, I think I'd have to take on some risks that, as a person, I don't want to take on," he said.
Webster, Duerson, and Easterling were all diagnosed with the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) after their deaths, and Duerson and Easterling both committed suicide.
The NFL released a statement in support of Borland's decision but underscoring the steps the league has made to improve player safety going forward.
"Playing any sport is a personal decision. By any measure, football has never been safer and we continue to make progress with rule changes, safer tackling techniques at all levels of football, and better equipment, protocols and medical care for players," Jeff Miller, the NFL's senior vice president of health and safety policy, said in the statement. "Concussions in NFL games were down 25 percent last year, continuing a three-year downward trend. We continue to make significant investments in independent research to advance the science and understanding of these issues. We are seeing a growing culture of safety."
Borland follows several high-profile retirements by young players this year, including Jason Worilds and Jake Locker, but neither player cited head injuries as the main concern. Seahawks WR Sidney Rice retired prior to last season because of the research he'd done into CTE, and I would guess that more players will do the same down the line.
On a micro level, this is another hit to the Niners for 2015, who are already reeling from Patrick Willis' sudden decision to retire. Justin Smith may retire as well, and San Francisco is looking to get things back on track after firing coach Jim Harbaugh and replacing him with Jim Tomsula. They've lost Mike Iupati, Frank Gore, Chris Culliver, Perrish Cox, and Dan Skuta while signing Torrey Smith, Reggie Bush, Darnell Dockett, and Jerome Simpson.