Four NFL players aged 30 or under have retired in surprising fashion since the 2015 league year began in early March.
All of them did so voluntarily, giving up millions of dollars in the process.
The latest player to retire, 24-year-old San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland, quit because he worried about his long-term brain health.
“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.
The four player who’ve walked away:
- Patrick Willis (30) — Gave up $US7.8 million in 2015 salary. He said foot injuries were to blame for his early retirement: “If I had anything left in these feet — you’ve all seen me, I broke my hand on a Sunday, had surgery on a Monday and played with a cast on Thursday — but it’s something about these feet.”
- Jake Locker (26) — Retired as a free agent after making $US12.6 million. In a statement, he said he the burning desire to play football. He’s now planning to relax and remodel his house.
- Jason Worilds (27) — Retired as one of the most coveted free agents in the NFL. He plans on working for Jehovah’s Witnesses.
- Chris Borland (24) — Retired after one season in the NFL, giving up the bulk of a $US3 million contract. He said football isn’t worth the risk.
While only Borland cited concussion concerns as a reason for his retirement, it’s fair to assume that what we’ve learned about head trauma over the last five years is changing the risk-reward calculus for professional players.
NFL agent on health: “If a guy gets even 2-3 mil in the bank, he can retire, live on 100-150k a yr in interest & not worry about his brain.”
— Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) March 17, 2015
Even those who are deeply involved in the sport acknowledge that retiring early is a smart move:
Got to respect Borland for clearly putting thought into his decision. If you’re not 100% committed to this game, better to walk away.
— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) March 17, 2015
I don’t feel bad for Borland. I feel happy for him. He’s made a tough choice.
— Chris Long (@JOEL9ONE) March 17, 2015
Guys deciding to walk away from the game at a young age is a great reminder to us all that life has a bigger picture. I wish them the best!
— Matt Overton (@MattOverton_LS) March 17, 2015
I’m just tellin ya head trauma & concussions are very common & with the attention & responses now to them this is uncharted waters for Fball
— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) March 17, 2015
The important thing to note here is that Borland didn’t have what we’d call a long history of concussions. Both of his diagnosed concussions came before he entered the NFL, he told ESPN. But recent research suggests that repeated head trauma — the type of routine contact that’s inherent to the game of football — could have dire long-term health effects even if it doesn’t result in a diagnosed concussion.
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