Chris Borland shocked the football world a little more than a year ago when he abruptly retired after a breakout rookie season with the San Francisco 49ers.
His retirement came after heightened concerns over a history of concussions and their residual effects on his mental health.
Borland has remained low key in the time following his retirement, but he opened up in a recent interview with the Washington Post and provided further insight into his decision to retire, the direction of the sport, and what’s in store for his future.
Here are some notable quotes:
On if he regrets retiring from football:
“Intellectually, I know it’s a sound decision. So I don’t regret that. More information has come out since I walked away that kind of reaffirmed my decision.”
On his relationship with former teammates:
“It’s surprisingly cordial. This is a lot of times construed as an adversarial arena, pro- or anti-football. But the analogy I use is I have friends who smoke cigarettes. I don’t tell them statistics about cigarette smoking. I don’t tell my friends who play football statistics about brain damage. It’s just two good friends with a healthy disagreement.”
On the NFL and the continued concussion debate:
“I think I’m connected to this issue in some capacity, football and brain damage. So carving out a way to address it tactfully is important to me no matter what I go on to do. I’ve got a wide variety of interests. But I think I’ll be connected to this for a long time. But I hope to be, too, because I think there’s a lot of misinformation. I’d like to be a voice of reason.”
“The game happens extremely fast, a quarter-second difference. You’re running 12 miles per hour. Your opponent’s running 15 [mph]. There are so many variables. I think it’s naive to suggest that you can throw a flag on the occasional hit where helmets collide and that’ll solve anything. ... We talked about the accumulation of sub-concussive hits. How are you going to stop a guard from double-teaming down on a defensive tackle or a fullback blocking out on an end? That’s just football. That’s the game. So I’m sorry I don’t have a great answer for you. I think it remains inherently dangerous.”
On youth football and how the game is taught:
“One thing that’s important to understand is that it’s believed that the pathology of CTE doesn’t have to do with concussion so much as it has to do with the accumulation of sub-concussive hits. So every hit matters. If you’re subject to 800 or 1,200 of these every year, it accumulates. It’s like erosion.”
“I think it’s America. You should be able to do what you want to do. I think with youth football, I think that’s another conversation. I don’t think you can make an informed decision at 5 years old, don a helmet and subject your brain to G-force hits.”
Borland is currently working an unpaid internship in Atlanta for a nonprofit funded by Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter. He’s done work with a number of organizations including One Mind, a nonprofit dedicated to benefiting those affected by brain disease, and Gridiron Greats, which provides assistance to former NFL players in need.
Borland, a third-round pick out of the University of Wisconsin who led the 49ers in tackles as a rookie, told the Washington Post he’d never play football again.