Chris Borland, middle linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers announced his retirement. What makes his announcement unusual, is that Mr. Borland played just one season. Mr. Borland had a promising career, but made the decision to retire after considering the risks associated with head concussions.
In the last week four other NFL players, all under age 30, announced their retirement. Mr. Borland’s retirement has grabbed the media, fans, and NFL franchise owners attention: Some fans have called him a quitter, and “soft.” If a fan really had an opportunity to watch Mr. Borland play last year, Mr. Borland was an aggressive player who overcame physical shortcomings associated with the middle linebacker position by using his body to stop top NFL running backs on opposing teams.
Here are the facts: the average duration of a professional football player’s career is three years. Contracts for annual salary are NOT guaranteed, so if a player is cut and replaced by a player the team deems better, his contract becomes void. This is also true if a player is cut due to injuries – his contract immediately becomes void.
Typically, rookie players get low paying contracts the first three years of professional football; if they have “market value” based on their performance, they may sign another contract for a higher salary – but with this comes the increasing risk of long term injury during their retirement years sustained while playing professionally.
Frequently, the higher paying contracts veteran NFL players receive after their rookie contracts expire isn’t sufficient to pay the long term medical bills they will incur once they retire. This doesn’t even consider quality of life issues being compromised during their retirement.
The NFL and the franchise owners have purposely failed to address health risks, and health issues for decades. Not until recently has the NFL even acknowledged that head concussions are a serious risk; and there is even evidence that the NFL knew and hid data from the player’s union to protect their financial interests.
Mr. Borland’s Conundrum
After careful consideration concerning the advantages & liabilities of playing in the NFL, Mr. Borland made a decision that the risks associated with playing professional football just isn’t worth it. I applaud Mr. Borland for his decision. His intelligence and critical thinking skills are equal to his (proven) physical prowess.
For the fans who called Mr Borland a quitter, I recommend that they put on a professional football uniform, and play a game or two (highly unlikely, I know). The point is this, after getting hit at full steam by other professional football players they will probably have a new appreciation and greater respect for Mr. Borland’s decision while they heal from their injuries.
The NFL franchise owners are worried or should be worried for what portends for them, as well they should. Some pundits predict that very soon savvy rookies will demand bigger (guaranteed) signing bonuses, and guaranteed salaries during their first three year tenure – and then promptly retire also. This indeed may be a perceptive and wise decision for rookies to pursue but which will force franchise owners to constantly recruit & draft players to restock their player personnel.
But really, since the inception of professional football, the owners have enticed young men, many predominantly of minority descend from deprived economic backgrounds to risk their health for potential economic prosperity.
Over the long term, the franchise owners have reaped huge profits while forcing the players to bear the health risks and the costs of medical treatment during their retirement, along with a compromised quality of life.
Mr. Borland made a decision for himself, but Mr. Borland’s intelligent evaluation of his opportunity to play in the NFL and articulate explanation of his decision may very well influence current & future professional football players to reflect on their lot -which may be the beginning of a trend – and maybe a long overdue restructuring of professional football.