NFL’s early retirements

Noah Cary

In the NFL, retirement is always an option, just an option that most players are forced to take, not a choice they necessarily want to make. However, the recent retirements of two 49ers linebackers has started the conversation about life after football.

Just days after free agency began, pro-bowl linebacker Patrick Willis announced his retirement from football. Willis, 30, has battled injuries in the past few years and cited those injuries as the reason for retirement. He also noted that he was concerned about life after football. Even by athletic standards, 30 is not an age when most successful athletes retire, especially not athletes dominating their position like Patrick Willis.

The real surprise came when rising star linebacker Chris Borland announced his retirement shortly after Willis. Borland, 24, filled in for Willis this last season and was noted as one of the rising stars on the 49ers’ defense. Borland only played one season in the NFL and was one of the top players in his rookie class. He cited concern about long-term brain damage as his reason for retirement. “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.”

More than 70 former players have been diagnosed with progressive neurological disease after their deaths. Several studies have shown a connection between repetitive head trauma and brain damage issues such as depression and memory loss. Though Borland only has two reported concussions in his life, he is stepping away from the game to prevent mental deterioration later in life. “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 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.”

Though Borland is the most prominent player to date to step down due to concerns about long-term health issues, as more research is done, more players could be hanging up the cleats for a longer, healthier life.