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Cody Kluge Cody Kluge BVM Sports Journalist/Editor
Chris Borland’s early NFL retirement has led to impact off the field

Chris Borland’s early NFL retirement has led to impact off the field

DAYTON, Ohio (BVM) — Just a few years ago, Chris Borland looked like the NFL’s next great up-and-coming linebacker. But after a surprising early retirement, Borland now seeks to help the football community and those beyond it in a different way.

At Archbishop Alter High School in Kettering, Ohio, Borland competed in several sports, but became a true star on the gridiron. A first team all-state player and conference player of the year, Borland turned into a three-star recruit and committed to play in college at the University of Wisconsin. 

Although he wasn’t the most highly-touted prospect, Borland quickly turned into a star for the Badgers, earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in 2009. After he was injured in 2010, he was able to redshirt which allowed him to star for three more seasons in Madison, Wisconsin.

Borland earned three first team All-Big Ten nods while winning three Big Ten championships with the Badgers in his final three years. As a senior, he was also named a first team All-American, and Big Ten Linebacker of the Year.

The quick rise saw Borland selected No. 77 overall by the San Francisco 49ers in the 2014 NFL Draft. At the next level, the linebacker impressed yet again.

Finally earning a chance to start in Week 7, Borland went on to have 108 tackles, one sack, two interceptions and one fumble recovery during the 2014 season. While he received all-rookie honors after the year, Borland’s rookie campaign ended early after being placed on IR with an ankle injury in December 2014.

After a tremendous rookie season, the Niners were plenty excited with the future of Borland. But nobody saw what was coming next.

On March 16, 2015, Borland decided to retire due to the concern of concussions and head trauma. Called “the most dangerous man in football” by ESPN later that year, Borland’s post-NFL career came quickly, but has had a strong impact.

While he suffered two documented concussions in his career, Borland believes he played through well over 10 more during his time on the football field. Although the decision was tough, Borland consulted with his family and believed stepping away from the dangers football presents would be best for his health in the long run.

Since his retirement, Borland has worked to make people aware of the potential brain trauma that can be suffered when playing football. Inspired by his brothers who both served in the military, Borland created a non-profit called After the Impact Fund, helping both retired athletes with mental health issues as well as veterans suffering from PTSD. 

While Borland’s main impact is seen through his work with that fund, he also has noted that he receives calls frequently from current NFL players, seeking insight on brain injuries and what they should consider for their future.

Borland’s strong stand and decision to choose health over money has undoubtedly impacted the NFL as well. While rules to prevent concussions or serious head or neck injuries were already being implemented at the time Borland was playing, these rules have been further enforced. New types of helmet technology have also been introduced through the years to help prevent serious concussions.

Borland may have felt a bit isolated right after the tough decision to retire early, but has continued to stand up for what he believes in then and now. In a 2020 Netflix documentary, Borland continued to speak out about head injuries, even calling out his alma mater of Wisconsin over their lack of concern for the well-being of players. 

While he isn’t as in tune with football any more, Borland is still plenty aware of what is happening in the sport as he continues his work. Last year, an opportunity presented itself to also help those struggling with mental health outside of the sport.

As COVID-19 forced schools into virtual learning and canceled sports throughout the last year-and-a-half, Borland has aimed to help kids and adults alike take care of their mental health while transitioning back into in-person classes and a return to sports. 

While he could have had the fortune and fame that comes with a legendary NFL career, Borland has repeatedly said that he has no regrets in his decision to retire. Although outspoken about his old sport, Borland has and will continue to make an impact as he focuses on the health and well-being of others.

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