Tim Ryan did not intend to criticize former 49ers linebacker Chris Borland, who announced Monday he was ending his NFL career after just one season, the team’s radio analyst said Tuesday afternoon.
Ryan appeared Tuesday morning on KNBR, the 49ers flagship station, and made a point to differentiate between Patrick Willis and Chris Borland.
"This isn't punitive on Borland, and I love the guy and I want to see him play -- Patrick Willis retired, Chris Borland quit," Ryan said on the radio.
When contacted by CSNBayArea.com, Ryan clarified his remarks – and explained "quit" is the word he uses to describe how his own NFL career with the Chicago Bears came to an end in the 1990s.
“I, by no means, wanted it to be a derogatory, negative, agitating, inflammatory comment, whatsoever,” Ryan said. “A big part of it is how you perceive the word quit vs. retire.
“That’s not me. I didn’t mean it for it to be (negative) that way.”
Ryan added, “By saying it, I can understand how many may perceive the word ‘quit’ as negative or weak-minded. I didn’t intend for it to be derogatory. I didn’t intend or to imply that Chris is weak in any way for his decision. You know how much I love the guy as a player. I’ve gotten to talk to him several times as a person. I thought he was the MVP of the defense.
“At the end of the day, my opinion, using the word quit, as opposed to retire, to me, I encourage everyone to go to the dictionary and look up the two words. I didn’t mean it the way some folks have taken it. I meant it based on my opinion and based on my experience.”
Ryan said he made the decision to quit playing football after receiving conflicting medical opinions on a documented neck condition. He said five doctors told him he could not continue to play. But five other doctors, including the Bears team physician, told him he could continue his football career.
“I made the decision, based on the risks, even though I was cleared, to quit and walk away from the game,” Ryan said. “I’m glad I did. In my opinion, I made the right decision.
“People ask me, when did you retire? How long did you play? I always say the same thing: ‘I quit playing in ’94 because of my neck.’ I don’t say, ‘I retired from football in ’94.’ I quit playing in ’94 because of my neck and the risks involved with it. I’ve always felt that way based on my perception of the word.
“I quit playing football in 1994. My teammate, Mike Singletary, retired from football in 1992 or ’93. More power to him. (I have) much respect for Chris Borland and what he is as a football player and what he’s going to be in life. He’s going to achieve great things.”
Ryan said playing the game of football at the highest level is not for everybody. And he said he meant no disrespect to Borland, who led the 49ers in tackles despite starting just eight games as a rookie.
“I didn’t mean that as a negative comment,” Ryan said. “It’s a hazardous job. I get it. What makes this sport great is there are men out there achieving things that most of the population either, A) physically can’t do, or B) mentally, physically, emotionally, however you want to look at it, really aren’t willing to do because of the hazards and the risks involved. That’s all. I judge nobody in terms of that being negative or positive, or strong or weak, at all.”
Ryan admitted his opening comment on KNBR that he was “pissed” was “selfish” because he wants to see the 49ers win and he loved watching Borland play.
“Part of me, the fan in me, is a little bit selfish that – and I said this earlier on the radio – he's walking away from what I think is an outstanding career in front of him. I understand it. And I respect it,” Ryan said.
“That’s just the fan in me that is, like, I think we all want to win. I want to be part of a winning team and I’m pulling for this team to win every single Sunday. And one of the best players decides one year in that he doesn’t want to play anymore based on the hazard of the game. I understand it, but the fan in me is, like, man, there’s another great player going out the door. And this league is about players, not plays.
“That was the fan in me. And it was more tongue-in-cheek than anything else. It’s not going to ruin my day, but I sure would love to see No. 50 in uniform next year. I was inspired by the way he played. I hope the way people took it and how I meant it was, from a selfish way, from a fan standpoint, I am pissed because I don’t get to watch him play. The way he played the game was inspiring. He was old school. The whole package is there when you watch Chris Borland.”
Ryan said he reached out to Borland on Tuesday after his comments gained national media attention. Ryan said he has not spoken with Borland but would be happy to “clear the road, if he has any issues with it.”