As you may have heard last night or on your morning commute today, San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland is retiring from the NFL at just 24-years-old.

His sudden retirement has sent the entire NFL-world into a tailspin of opinion and emotion, understandably. But the main question that seems to be arising is,

“What’s going to happen to the NFL?”

And that’s wrong.

For one, the NFL will be fine. The NFL has an always has been a “Next Man Up” organization, and that isn’t going to collapse because of Borland—despite his decision being a scene in the NFL’s worst nightmare.

But the larger point, one that is grossly overlooked, is that a 24-year-old budding star is voluntarily walking away from the game only one year into his professional career.

Here’s Borland’s quote to Steve Fainaru-Wade and Mark Fainaru of ESPN’s Outside the Lines,

I just honestly want to do what’s best for my health. 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. 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.

How can you not commend that?

A human being chose health over profession when so many before him have felt the repercussions of trying to achieve both. It’s a powerful statement to his peers, one that will not go unnoticed.

His landmark decision didn’t come without backlash though, even from respected names in the industry. Given the sensitive and unique nature of Borland’s decision, most didn’t know how to perceive it.

And this is the biggest issue in the aftermath of Chris Borland’s decision. It’s the lack of context some are basing their arguments on that are generating the most buzz.

The NFL isn’t a six-month job. If you don’t put in the work 12 months out of the year, you don’t get paid for six.

The strain of playing a professional sport is one that I cannot speak about in the first person. I have not, nor will ever play, a professional sport – but it doesn’t take a professional to understand what you see on the field is a result of hard work exerted over a long period of time.

And, while Mike Florio (@ProFootballTalk) isn’t wrong here, he is completely off-base in how he frames his argument. How much an NFL player makes in comparison to other professions – and how much fame they acquire by doing so – doesn’t make his argument relevant.

In fact, it dilutes the underlying factor that professional football players are people, too. They’re not superheroes.

Chris Borland isn’t Iron Man. Patrick Willis isn’t the Hulk as much as he may resemble him.

Borland and Willis are joined by Jason Worilds and Jake Locker as the group of athletes who decided to step away from the game in their prime this offseason. While the other three didn’t retire from football because of head-related injuries, it shows that the “guts and glory” days of the NFL are numbered.

Don’t get me wrong, Chris Borland is being entirely selfish in his decision to retire from the NFL. But he also has every right to be.

At the end of the day, it’s health over hazard and family over football.

In Chris Borland’s situation, context becomes everything.


(Featured Photo courtesy of Phil Roeder)