Chris Borland made history in March when he announced his decision to retire from football after just one season. Citing concerns about the long-term impact that football has on physical and mental health, 24-year-old Borland, who led the 49ers in tackles as a rookie, said football “wasn’t worth the risk.”
“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,” he told ESPN.
Borland was recently profiled by Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada in ESPN the Magazine’s August 31st NFL Preview issue. It’s a lengthy article, but well worth reading in full to get a better understanding of life as a professional football player and the league’s concussion policy.
But Borland also offered a fascinating, if disturbing, anecdote from the NFL’s Rookie Orientation. According to Borland, the NFL had two “prominent retired players” come in to offer pieces of advice. One such piece of advice was that rookies should hire “fall guys” for the explicit purpose of shouldering any sort of legal trouble the rookies might find themselves in — including possibly going to jail. The players also said “we’ll bail him out,” although Borland did not indicate who he thought “we” is, whether that would be the NFL or other players.
“Shortly after he was drafted by the 49ers in the third round last year, Borland attended the annual rookie orientation put on by the NFL. The league tries to prepare young players for what to expect on and off the field, and it brought in two prominent retired players to give the rookies advice.
“‘Get yourself a fall guy,'” Borland says one of the former players advised. The former player, whom Borland declined to name, told the rookies that if they ran into legal trouble, their designated fall guy would be there to take the blame and, if necessary, go to jail. “‘We’ll bail him out,'” Borland says the former player assured them.
Borland was appalled. “‘I was just sitting there thinking, “‘Should I walk out? What am I supposed to do?'” he recalls. He says he didn’t leave the room because he didn’t want to cause a scene, but the incident stayed with him.”
As of August 16, at least 23 NFL players have been arrested since the Super Bowl. If there’s any truth to Borland’s claim, one has to wonder how many more could have been arrested if they hadn’t had fall guys to take the blame for them.
We reached out to the NFL and the NFLPA for comment on the story and are waiting to hear back.
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