San Francisco stunner: Former Wisconsin Badgers star Chris Borland retires


After just one season with the San Francisco 49ers, linebacker Chris Borland—a former star for the Wisconsin Badgers—announced Monday night he is retiring from the NFL.

Borland told ESPN’s Outside the Lines that concerns about the long-term effects of repetitive head trauma led him to opt out at the age of 24.

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“I just honestly want to do what’s best for my health,” Borland said. “From what I’ve researched and what I’ve experienced, I don’t think it’s worth the risk.”

Borland was projected to be the replacement for Patrick Willis at inside linebacker for the 49ers. Willis, 29, retired last week after eight seasons.

Instead, Borland became the fourth player younger than 30 to announce his retirement in the last several days. Former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds and Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker opted to walk away from the NFL.

“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 until 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.”

The 49ers released a statement.

“While unexpected, we certainly respect Chris’ decision,” general manager Trent Baalke said in the statement. “From speaking with Chris, it was evident that he had put a great deal of thought into this decision.”

Borland was a third-round pick out of Wisconsin in last May’s draft. He played in 14 games last season, starting eight, and had 108 tackles, one sack, two interceptions and four passes defensed.

Reaction from in and around the NFL was mixed.

Oct 12, 2013; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Chris Borland (44) during the game against the Northwestern Wildcats at Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin won 35-6. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Borland signed a four-year rookie contract worth a little more than $2.9 million and was paid a $617,436 bonus, according to Under NFL rules, the 49ers could seek to recoup ¾ of that amount for the three remaining years on the deal.

It was a stunning decision and it will be interesting to see if he gets the itch to return or if he’s seriously done with the game. But from the sounds of it, he’s done with the sport.

He reportedly told the 49ers of his decision on Friday and said his rookie success didn’t make it harder to walk away.

“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.”

Borland was referring to three former NFL players who were diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a devastating brain disease, after their deaths.

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  • Duerson and Easterling each committed suicide and Webster died after being homeless and unable to care for himself for years.

    Borland said he started to have second thoughts during training camp, when he sustained what he thought was a concussion while stopping a running play.

    He played through it, in part because he was trying to earn a roster spot.

    Borland said, “I just thought to myself, ‘What am I doing? Is this how I’m going to live my adult life, banging my head, especially with what I’ve learned and knew about the dangers?’”

    There will be some fans that will ridicule Borland’s decision and that’s their right. But since none of them have to live the rest of their lives inside of Borland’s head, it doesn’t really matter.

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