Not too long ago, within 18 months, four NFL football players under the age of 30 voluntarily left the game. The one that generated the most attention, and the one that is the focus of this article is Chris Borland, former linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers and Wisconsin Badgers. At age 24 he made what all people agree was an informed decision to leave the game and occupation that was the focal point of his life. From a personal perspective, I could not stand Chris Borland as he wrecked havoc on my beloved Nebraska Cornhuskers, contributing to some beat-downs that were hard for this Big Red fan to stomach! But that said, I have had tremendous respect for the way this under-sized, gritty, hard-nosed guy played. He was a “player’s player” and that kind of guy that chewed leather and spit nails! He was what you you think of when you think football player.
The average career of NFL football players is about 3.3 years, according the the NFL Players Association. Most leave because they are replaced by better players or due to injuries. Borland hadn’t even reached the average. Every player that reaches the NFL is fulfilling a dream. The odds are .09% that a high school football player is going to reach that level. Borland made it, and after one season, at the age of 24, he made the decision to step aside. He didn’t leave the game because he couldn’t do it any more. Nor was it because of an injury that he had suffered. The reason Chris Borland made this decision is because of the potential long-term consequences of playing the game. More specific, he left because of the consequences that so many players have suffered due to head injuries. Chris Borland wants to live a normal life when he is in his 60’s, and he stands a better chance of doing so by stepping away from a game that he loves, and a job that he performs very well.
Borland did a significant amount of research before making this decision, even after recognizing the concussion numbers were down 25% in the previous year in professional football. He also made this decision knowing that he was going to leave millions of dollars of salary behind. Most players come into the league with the plan to make as much money as you possibly can for as long as you are able to play. And if you make enough, and invest it wisely, you won’t have to learn how to do something else to survive the rest of your life. The problem with that thinking is that most players do not get that many years to reap these crazy salaries, and a very large percentage of them do not invest wisely. What is significant is that they have 20 to 30 productive years left in their life are left to find some other way to earn an income. Many of them struggle a great deal with this, and if they are suffering from an accumulation of injuries, it makes it much more difficult.
Borland made a decision that is also different than most of his generational peers. Being a member of the iY generation, short-term or instant gratification is the common decision making model. But Borland broke the model, recognizing that choosing short-term benefits often lead to long-term consequences. He could bank a lot of money before he turns 30, but at what risk? Rather, he chose to pursue other parts of his life, relying on a college degree that he earned and setting out on a path that will hopefully provide him and opportunities to enjoy his kids and grandkids. Rather than “seize the day,” he has chosen to “seize the future."
Borland is not alone in this thinking. Rashard Mendenhall, former Pittsburg Steeler running back, stepped away from the game at the age of 26. “There is another life apart from football, and you can be happy. You can still work.” Mendenhall is seizing the future as well.
Football is the example here, and it would be unfair to not note that the game at some levels is getting safer due changes made in the game and rules. But when you look at a profession where so many workers have come out scarred for life, it serves as a perfect model to use about decision making. In all of our lives there are those things that look too good to be true. Make money fast! Instant wealth! Take a risk! There are those among us that choose careers only because we want to bank money as quickly as possible, regardless of the risk. But it appears that our grandparents generation, those that lived through he depression, taught us all very valuable lessons. Good things tend to come to those who wait, and putting of immediate gratification often leads to the ability to enjoy something much greater down the road. Kudos the Chris Borland for making a very tough decision, and here’s to a long and happy life!