March 17, 2015 / 6:14 PM / 4 years ago

Borland's early retirement stokes NFL debate over concussions

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The decision by San Francisco 49ers’ budding star Chris Borland to walk away from the National Football League over head trauma concerns drew shock and a dose of admiration from fellow players on Tuesday.

San Francisco 49ers inside linebacker Chris Borland (50) celebrates after a fumble by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (not pictured) in New Orleans, Louisiana in a November 9, 2014 file photo. Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The 24-year-old linebacker called it quits after just one season in the NFL, saying his four-year, $2 million contract was not worth exposure to brain injury.

“WOW. I loved Chris Borland’s game but I can’t fault him for calling it quits,” St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long tweeted. “His concerns are real. Still it takes a man to do the logical.”

Donte Stallworth, who had a 10-year NFL career before retiring in 2012, said on Twitter: “Players today are more concerned now than ever before regarding brain trauma and health issues. It’s scary!”

The NFL has been grappling with the issue of concussions, changing the rules of the game and enlisting new protocols to ensure injured players do not return to the field prematurely.

“I just honestly want to do what’s best for my health,” Borland told ESPN. “From what I’ve researched and what I’ve experienced, I don’t think it’s worth the risk.”

A class action over concussions by retired players is awaiting judicial approval and could cost the NFL, the nation’s most popular sport, $1 billion in damages.

An attorney for players in that lawsuit said Borland’s decision follows a trend.

“Student-athletes and now pro athletes are seeing the huge risk and determining that there are more effective ways for them to make a living instead of putting their health at risk,” said lawyer Jason Luckasevic.

Last week Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker retired at age 26 and Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds stepped aside at 27. Both were free agents and though neither stated injuries as the reason for quitting, the NFL no longer had the allure.

For the moment, though, lucrative contracts and the unparalleled popularity of pro football guarantee a steady stream of talent for the NFL.

“Anyone worried about the future of football should see the amount of calls & emails we get from kids literally begging to get into pro days,” Green Bay Packers Director of Player Personnel Eliot Wolf tweeted on Tuesday.

Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said he is going to continue to play.

“No offense to anyone but I’m playing until I can’t anymore,” he said on Twitter. “I love this game to (sic) much.”

Reporting by Steve Ginsburg; Editing by Mary Milliken and Eric Beech

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