NFL standout quits, citing brain damage risk

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    Chris Borland was a standout linebacker in his first year in the NFL. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

    Chris Borland was a standout linebacker in his first year in the NFL. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

    San Francisco 49er Chris Borland shocked the sports world when he retired after just one year in the league. 

    On Tuesday, ESPN’s investigative unit “Outside The Lines” broke the story that an upcoming NFL standout was retiring after just a year in the league.

    Football is a tough sport on the human body, and early retirements aren’t unheard of, but San Francisco 49er inside linebacker Chris Borland’s announcement was a first. Instead of leaving the game because of injuries, he was leaving to preempt a particular type of damage that’s become synonymous with football players in recent years—a brain injury.

    “I just honestly want to do what’s best for my health,” Borland told Mark Fainaru-Wada and his brother Steve Fainaru, who broke the story and who authored the book League of Denial about traumatic brain injuries in former NFL players. “From what I’ve researched and what I’ve experienced, I don’t think it’s worth the risk.”

    And Borland had done his research, talking to friends, family, and professionals in the field. His decision was largely respected by fellow players, though no one else joined him Tuesday in exiting the league as a cautionary measure.

    “It was a proactive decision,” Mark Fainaru-Wada told The Pulse. “People believed that Borland had a bright future ahead of him.”

    No only did Borland walk away from a game he says he loves playing and has excelled at since he was a kid, but he also left a $3 million four-year contract on the table.

    His decision raises many questions that are becoming familiar ones with each NFL scandal that hits the headlines: Should we let our kids play? What can the league do to better protect players? Should NFL change the rules to make players safer? Could decisions like this change not only how the game is played, but who plays the game, as well?

    We put these questions and more to Fainaru-Wada.

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