Any NFL fan knows that the average career lifespan of an NFL player is about 10 years. Football is a rough, physical game, one that causes more concussions, ACL tears, and head trauma than any other sport. As a society, we cherish football and its players, yet we fail to realize the physical and emotional toll such a trying game takes on the athletes that play it.
This week, our perspective improved significantly. Patrick Willis and Chris Borland, two linebackers for the San Francisco 49ers, announced their premature retirements from pro football. Both were stunning in their own right; Willis, 30, was an established NFL veteran. Borland, 24, was coming off his rookie season.
For Willis, it was the rigor of playing in the NFL that was too much for him. “I know I no longer have it in these feet to go out there and give you guys that kind of ‘Wow,’” said Willis. The former Ole Miss middle linebacker played 8 NFL seasons, and was voted to 7 Pro Bowls, and 5 All-Pro teams. He landed at #10 on the NFL’s annual Top 100 players list for two seasons in a row.
While Willis’s retirement was certainly unexpected, Borland’s was almost unfathomable. The rookie linebacker out of Wisconsin went in the 3rd round of this year’s draft, and made an immediate impact. He was named Defensive Rookie of the Month in November, was a two-time defensive rookie of the week, and a one-time NFC Defensive Player of the week award recipient.
He attributed his decision to leave football to his own fear of head trauma. The NFL is a dangerous game, and Borland may have saved himself years of his life with this decision.
We wish both Patrick Willis and Chris Borland the best in their future endeavors.