NFL: Early retirements over health fears may have ripple effect

Tue Mar 17, 2015 7:45pm EDT
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By Larry Fine

(Reuters) - The NFL has endured a tumultuous season dealing with domestic abuse cases, a murder trial and a probe into possible cheating, but it is a spate of early retirements that may have the longest lasting impact.

Chris Borland, a 24-year-old linebacker who led the San Francisco 49ers in tackles as a rookie last season, became the fourth player in a week aged 30 or younger to retire, calling it quits over concerns about the long-term effects of repetitive head trauma.

"This is the most serious challenge for the NFL in the short run and the long run," Smith College economics professor and sports business author Andrew Zimbalist told Reuters in a telephone interview on Tuesday.

"It's being manifested in lower participation rates in youth football around the country," he said about worries over the effects of head trauma from gridiron collisions.

Borland's surprise announcement on Monday followed the retirements of quarterback Jake Locker (26) and linebackers Jason Worilds (27) and Patrick Willis (30).

"I just honestly want to do what's best for my health," Borland, who met with prominent concussion researchers before making his decision, told ESPN. "From what I've researched and what I've experienced, I don't think it's worth the risk."

The National Football League, meanwhile, awaits judicial approval over their settlement offer to a lawsuit brought by former players that could cost the league $1 billion in damages.

The NFL asserts the game has "never been safer."   Continued...

San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland (50) signals a first down after an interception against the New York Giants during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports