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San Francisco 49ers Linebacker Retires At 24 Due To Concern Over Brain Trauma

Chris Borland, who had a standout rookie season, told ESPN he doesn't think playing football is "worth the risk."

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Chris Borland, a 24-year-old linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers, has decided to retire from football after only one season over concerns about the effects of head trauma, ESPN reports.

Borland told reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, who wrote the book League of Denial about the connection between playing football and incurring neurological damage, that he "want[s] to do what's best for my health."

From what I've researched and what I've experienced, I don't think it's worth the risk.

I feel largely the same, as sharp as I've ever been, for me it's wanting to be proactive. I'm concerned that if you wait till you have symptoms, it's too late. ... There are a lot of unknowns. I can't claim that X will happen. I just want to live a long healthy life, and I don't want to have any neurological diseases or die younger than I would otherwise.

Borland told ESPN that he suffered a concussion during training camp, and told his parents that "his career in the NFL would be brief because of his concerns about the potential long-term effects of the head injuries."

Borland recalled wondering, "Is this how I'm going to live my adult life, banging my head, especially with what I've learned and knew about the dangers?'

According to ESPN, Borland met with a team of experts, and considered the lives of former players who were diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease that causes dementia-like symptoms and is strongly linked to repetitive brain trauma.

After thinking through the potential repercussions, Borland said the decision was ultimately "simple."

The decision comes after a standout rookie season for Borland, who recorded two interceptions, one fumble, and 84 tackles. He also looked to be a promising replacement for linebacker Patrick Willis, who retired last week at the age of 30.

Borland, who earned a bachelors degree in history at the University of Wisconsin, earned around $1 million for his rookie season, including a signing bonus worth over $600,000.

His decision, and the plain language he used to describe his concerns over the effects of repetitive brain trauma, represent the NFL's worst fears. Due to his young age and ability, Borland's decision signifies somewhat of a turning point in the social awareness of the risks to players. Though it is tough to imagine a reality in which the NFL will not have an endless pipeline of talent who would do anything to make it on a roster, Borland's decision will undoubtedly send a signal to players, parents, and possibly, the league.

San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke released a statement shortly after Borland's decision had been announced:

While unexpected, we certainly respect Chris' decision. From speaking with Chris, it was evident that he had put a great deal of thought into this decision. He was a consummate professional from day one and a very well respected member of our team and community. Chris is a determined young man that overcame long odds in his journey to the NFL and we are confident he will use the same approach to become very successful in his future endeavors. We will always consider him a 49er and wish him all the best.

In a statement, the NFL pledged that player safety is a "top priority."

We respect Chris Borland's decision and wish him all the best. Playing any sport is a personal decision.

By any measure, football has never been safer and we continue to make progress with rule changes, safer tackling techniques at all levels of football, and better equipment, protocols and medical care for players. Concussions in NFL games were down 25 percent last year, continuing a three-year downward trend. We continue to make significant investments in independent research to advance the science and understanding of these issues. We are seeing a growing culture of safety. Everyone involved in the game knows that there is more work to do and player safety will continue to be our top priority.

BuzzFeed News has reached out to the NFL Player's Association, but they have not commented on Borland's retirement.

Lindsey Adler is a sports reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Lindsey Adler at lindsey.adler@buzzfeed.com.

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