I love football. As more times goes on, I'm more conflicted by that.
The story says that as a freshman at the University of Wisconsin, Borland suffered a head injury covering a kickoff and couldn't remember the rest of the game. He doesn't remember blocking a punt later in the game. He was named co-Big Ten special teams player of the week. Borland said his head was pounding that night and he had a teammate wake him up every few hours to make sure he didn't slip into a coma. The story also talks about he and fellow Wisconsin linebacker Mike Taylor were shot up with Toradol to play through injuries, and how Borland eventually wondered what he was doing it for. (It also makes you consider again that maybe we should keep thinking critically about the entire college football system, especially considering the labor that is in harm's way doesn't collect a wage.)
In 10 years of football, Chris Borland figures he sustained 30 concussions. Borland's most famous tackle in high school went viral with 222, 000 views on YouTube. "On third and short, he launched himself over the line, turned a somersault in midair and pulled down the running back from behind as his feet hit the ground.
It was a simple play in 2014 preseason practice that made retirement a possibility. On a dive play, Borland buried his helmet into the chest of the lead blocker, 6-foot-4, 293-pound 49ers' fullback Will Tukuafu. Absorbing the blow, Borland was dazed for several minutes and wondered what damage these hits were doing to his brain. He was not alone with these thoughts. Fellow high profile players (Pittsburgh Steelers DT Jason Worilds, Tennessee Titans QB Jake Locker, and teammates OT Anthony Davis and LB Patrick Willis) joined Chris Borland this offseason in leaving the NFL prematurely.
In April, Borland stared hard at his iPhone, pondering what to do about the NFL's summons to a post-retirement drug test. The league says it reserves the right to test players -- even after they've retired -- to ensure that they don't dodge a test, then return. But given the stakes, and the NFL's dubious history on concussions, it occurred to Borland that maybe, just maybe, he was being set up.
"I just wanted to be sure." Borland agreed to submit a urine sample to the NFL's representative, who drove in from Green Bay and administered the test in the Wisconsin trainer's room. Then he hired a private firm for $150 to test him independently. Both tests came back negative, according to Borland.
"I don't really trust the NFL," he says.
What may have factored into the decision to leave the riches of the NFL after only one season may have been the message from two prominent retired players. At the rookie symposium sponsored by the NFL, "Get yourself a fall guy," Borland says one of the former players advised. The former player, whom Borland declined to name, told the rookies that if they ran into legal trouble, their designated fall guy would be there to take the blame and, if necessary, go to jail. "'We'll bail him out,'" Borland says the former player assured them.
Smarter, not harder.
Paul Murphy is a freelance writer from New Hampshire. .