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Sports Then and Now

The Economics of Early Retirement from Football

Posted on April 02, 2015 by Peter Getty
Chris Borland decided after just one NFL season that the financial gains of playing in the NFL weren't worth the physical risks.

Chris Borland decided after just one NFL season that the financial gains of playing in the NFL weren’t worth the physical risks.

49ers linebacker Chris Borland recently sparked controversy when he retired after a successful rookie year. Stating health reasons, specifically long-term damage from repeated head injuries, Borland expressed concerns of residual neurological conditions and shortened life span. Two weeks after Borland announced his retirement, University of Michigan offensive lineman Jack Miller followed suit — college football is facing just as much scrutiny over concussion-related injuries as the NFL. Last year, Miller’s coach was criticized for allowing quarterback Shane Morris to play even after an apparent concussion.

Will early retirement from professional and college football be more common in the upcoming years? Borland made $574,359 in his only year in the NFL, on top of a $617,436 signing bonus (three-quarters of which he will return). Although he surrenders nearly $3 million over the three remaining years of his rookie contract, he enters the next phase of his career with financial security if he plays his cards right. Miller, an NFL prospect with a potentially big salary, will not earn a dime playing football. How agonizing this decision must have been for him. He, like Borland, could have put in a year or two of pro football and retired early with hundreds of thousands of dollars in the bank. In the end, the debilitating effects of past and likely future concussions proved greater than the reward of a large paycheck.

Will these considerations affect recruitment and, ultimately, the game? Probably not, but there is an infinite amount of people who would gladly take Borland’s place — concussion concerns or not. With the controversy surrounding the NFL’s mishandling of concussion cases, players no longer trust themselves to the league’s care. When you consider that no amount of money can purchase a new brain, perhaps early retirement isn’t such a bad idea after all.


Peter Getty’s love of sports began at the age of nine. Baseball first caught his attention when, growing up, he played catch with his dad, Gordon Peter Getty, the former CEO of Getty Oil.  During his youth, Peter participated in all the usual team sports–baseball, basketball, soccer and football. After coming to the realization that he was “awful” at all of them, he decided to be content with being a major sports fan by writing about them. Based in San Francisco, Peter stays current on all the Northern California teams, and has an excellent understanding of all professional sports. In addition to his posts on Sports Then and Now, you can also check out his own blog.

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