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Chris Borland retires from NFL, citing brain concerns

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San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland is retiring at age 24, citing concerns about the long-term health consequences of repeated head injuries.

What makes Chris Borland a unique case is that he’s choosing to leave the NFL without having racked up numerous concussions while playing in the league. says sports economist Victor Matheson, a professor at The College of the Holy Cross.

“Think about Chris Borland as the gambler at the casino,” says Matheson. “He’s been on a great winning streak so far. He’s had a great rookie season, made over a million dollars, and the question is, ‘Is now the time to walk away with the winnings or do you play for a couple extra seasons and let the money ride?’”

Between Borland’s contract and potential endorsements, Matheson says this could be the best paying job the linebacker will ever have — yet he decided the income wasn’t worth the potential health problems. 

It’s a cost-benefit calculation players – at all levels – have to make, says John Culhane, a professor at Widener Law School. He’s studied compensation and health risks in the sport and thinks more players may begin to follow Borland’s lead, either in the NFL or in school and recreational leagues.

He says NFL players may decide “if my brain’s not operating when I’m 40 years old, it doesn’t matter if I have $5 million or $10 million.”

While it’s difficult to predict the cost of brain injuries, Culhane says players with severe health problems could eventually rack up million dollar medical bills to go with those million dollar paychecks.

Correction: A previous version misidentified Borland’s position in the subhead. The story text is correct, Borland is a linebacker. The subhead has been corrected.

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