Why the NFL Should Be Scared of Chris Borland | FRONTLINE

Chris Borland was known as a fearless player,
but after one season, he quit because he was afraid
of head injuries.>>I couldn’t really justify
playing for money, and I think
what I wanted to achieve put me at too great of a risk, so I just decided
on another profession.>>NARRATOR:
Now Borland’s called the most dangerous man
in football: a powerful symbol of the NFL’s
growing concussion crisis.>>If the NFL is smart, they’re scared of Chris Borland and the people that will come
after them.>>NARRATOR: Like so many
young kids in America, Borland grew up loving football.>>In a lot of ways,
I was born into football. I knew it was
what I was doing to do. I loved it and stuck with it
and realized my dream.>>NARRATOR: In high school, his climb to the NFL
began on YouTube.>>Chris Borland
with a diving tackle. He just hurdled the line!>>NARRATOR:
The hit went viral.>>What a defensive play!>>NARRATOR:
Scouts saw it.>>That was Borland
that dove headlong over the Fairmont offensive line
to make the tackle.>>NARRATOR:
Borland was on his way to big-time college football. The University of Wisconsin’s
promotional highlights showcase number 44
Chris Borland’s aggressive hits.>>And he gets blasted
by Chris Borland!>>NARRATOR: After four seasons,
paydirt.>>The San Francisco 49ers
select Chris Borland.>>It was a dream come true. I remember my brothers
jumping up and hugging me, and it’s surreal to see
your name across the ticker and the analysts
start to talk about you and you’re playing in the NFL.>>NARRATOR: The 49ers
gave him the number 50 jersey, a four-year contract worth
nearly three million dollars, and a signing bonus
worth more than $600,000.>>He was just a heat-seeking
missile, this guy. He was looking
at a long-term career. He was looking at everything
that the NFL brings you.>>NARRATOR: But as Borland
was becoming a star, the NFL’s concussion crisis
was hard to ignore.>>He began to think about all the violence
that he was inflicting and experiencing,
and I think he found that morally troublesome.>>NARRATOR: He began reading
everything he could about the effects of football
on his brain.>>I knew of CTE, I didn’t know
what the acronym stood for. I mean, I started
with Google searches, I started looking at things,
“What does this term mean? Where is the research done?”>>NARRATOR:
What he learned terrified him.>>It’s tough. I mean, I… (sighs) You understand on a certain
level what you’re doing, but you don’t know the science
behind it.>>NARRATOR:
Borland then went even further. He called a leading brain
scientist at Boston University.>>In football, one has to expect that
almost every play of every game
and every practice, they’re going to be hitting
their heads against each other. Each time that happens,
it’s around 20G or more. That’s the equivalent
of driving a car at 35 miles per hour
into a brick wall 1,000 to 1,500 times per year.>>NARRATOR: After that call,
that very day, Borland retired.>>The idea that just the basis
of the game, repetitive hits, could bring on a cascade
of issues later in life, it changed the game for me.>>NARRATOR: Borland’s decision
to leave the nation’s most powerful sports league
instantly made headlines.>>San Francisco 49ers
linebacker Chris Borland has retired.>>He’s calling it a career
after one season.>>He decided to retire from the
NFL due to concussion concerns.>>This was a massive blow. The profound act
of an NFL player walking away from three million
dollars and fame and a chance to play
professional football, it’s just incalculable.>>NARRATOR:
At NFL headquarters, they responded immediately. Commissioner
Roger Goodell himself hit the airwaves
to defend the game.>>I think our game
has never been more exciting, it’s never been
more competitive, and I don’t think
it’s ever been safer.>>It’s dishonest, and I
don’t think it’s responsible to say that the game is safer. I think that’s just not true,
and the player… the players themselves
on the field know. I mean, they’d scoff at that. That’s not accurate.>>NARRATOR: The 49ers
sent a bill asking him to return
most of his signing bonus.>>I didn’t play for money,
I didn’t leave for money, just my personal health, and will happily pay back
the pre-tax value and get on with my life.>>NARRATOR: Concussion safety
advocate Chris Nowinski hopes Borland’s decision
could be a turning point.>>When I read about Chris
Borland deciding to walk away, it really made me wonder. If every NFL player
had the access to the information that he has, would they make
the same choice?>>NARRATOR: It’s been a year
since he walked away, the first fall in ten years
Chris Borland hasn’t suited up.>>Last year, the NFL
commissioned actuaries to estimate
how many NFL veterans would have brain damage, and the number they came up with
was three out of ten. So if I turn on a game and a third of the guys
will have brain damage in life, I just…
I can’t really support that. And I just… I don’t really watch football
anymore if it’s on. I may peek at it, but…

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