Linebacker Chris Borland said Thursday morning he wanted to alert the 49ers of his decision to end his NFL career after one season before the end of free agency.
Borland, 24, who this week announced he would stop playing football due to concerns about the long-term effects of brain trauma, appeared live on CBS This Morning to talk about his decision.
“The 49ers drafted me, assuming I wanted to play more than one year,” Borland said. “At the time, I did, too. Things changed. They didn’t deserve to be undercut. And I didn’t want that to happen. But, ultimately, my individual health was important, so after the season I tried to talk to as many people as possible. At the same time, I wanted to let them know before the end of free agency, certainly before the draft so they could make the arrangements for finding my replacement.”
The free-agent signing period opened March 10. Three days later, Borland spoke with general manager Trent Baalke about his decision.
The 49ers awarded Borland a $617,436 signing bonus as part of the four-year contract he signed in May as a third-round draft pick. NFL teams are allowed to reclaim pro-rated signing bonus money from any player who voluntarily ends his career before the conclusion of his contract. It is not known whether the 49ers will attempt to get Borland to pay back three-quarters of his signing bonus. Borland was not asked whether he would voluntarily return the money.
Borland, who underwent three shoulder surgeries while in college, has sustained two documented concussions in his life, he previously said. He had a concussion as an eighth-grader while playing soccer, and he was concussed as a sophomore in high school as a football player. Borland said he sustained what he believes was a concussion on a routine play during 49ers training camp that prompted him to begin considering ending his career. He did not report the injury to the team’s medical staff. Borland missed the final two games of the regular season with an ankle injury.
Borland spoke Friday with Trent Baalke, just two days after Baalke told the local media he expected a combination of Borland and Michael Wilhoite to replace seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis, who announced his retirement. Borland was asked about the organization’s response to his decision.
“They were supportive,” Borland said. “The organization has been great. They understand.”
The team asked Borland to seek another opinion from a professional in the field before making a final decision.
“I think you should talk to as many people as possible,” Borland said. "But they’ve been great to me.”
Borland announced his decision on Monday evening in an interview with “Outside the Lines.” Borland was named to the Pro Football Writers’ All-Rookie team after leading the 49ers with 128 tackles while making eight starts in place of Willis, who opted for season-ending toe surgery last season. He said he has communicated with many of his teammates since his decision, he said.
“It was difficult,” Borland said. “I think they wish I was playing, some of them. But they understand where I’m coming from and they know the type of guy I am, and that it’s well-researched and I’m passionate about it. I have their support – the guys I’ve played with, the guys I’ve looked up to and played before me. The most meaningful thing has been former players who’ve struggled and reached out. That’s been really touching.”
Borland said he is surprised his decision has gained so much national attention and become a hot-button topic on the dangers of playing football.
”Last week, I spoke with a neurologist and we had a good conversation about a lot of things. And I said, ‘Is this a lightning rod issue? Is this going to gain a lot of attention?’ And he said, ‘No, you’ll be (on) the ticker at the bottom of ESPN one day.’ And it’s obviously gone further than that, and that wasn’t my intent,” Borland said. “I’m not particularly interested in having in-depth conversations about it. However, while it’s in the spotlight, I think there have been enough former players who’ve suffered and future players whose health might be at risk. So it’s important to talk about the information that’s available.”
It was suggested to Borland that an individual could sustain head injuries riding a bike that are every bit as severe as what could happen from playing football. But Borland said there is a big distinction between every-day life and playing football.
“The dangers are inherent to the game,” Borland said. “You can ride a bicycle, and the act of riding a bicycle causing brain trauma. Yeah, you could fall, but that’s if something goes wrong. Everything could go right in football and it’s still dangerous, which isn’t an indictment of the game. I think if you love it and you think it’s worth it, you should play. The important factor is that it’s an informed, individual choice.”
Borland, a history major in his undergraduate work at Wisconsin, said he plans to return to college and envisions a career in academics of business.