Football / Life / Sports / World Magazine / March 24, 2015

Sacrificing the Good for the Great

From my most recent article for

Something happened last week that turned the American pursuit of wealth and fame on its head. One of the most promising young stars in one of the most lucrative professions walked away from piles of money and heaps of fame before even reaching his peak. Why would he do this?

Chris Borland is—correction, was—a star linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers. Last season he burst onto the scene as a rookie rather unexpectedly, filling a vacancy left by an injured Patrick Willis, one of the best in the NFL. Last Friday, Borland notified team management he was retiring. Borland is in good health, is an ascending star, and was slated to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars with millions more awaiting. Is he crazy?

Not in the slightest. Borland was simply willing to take the long view of his life, so unusual in a young man. After a vicious collision in practice last season, he began researching the post-career effects of head injuries. He learned about the potential cost of continuing an NFL career: permanent brain damage or even death. Borland knew himself too—his competitive drive and aggressive playing style wouldn’t allow him to go at any speed less than full. In viewing all of this, he considered the risks and rewards of continuing to play football and of walking away (while he can still walk). Borland then made the difficult decision to retire at age 24.

. . .

Imagine if you and I processed choices the same way and were self-aware enough to know we need to. What could be different?

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