Seau's legacy and its impact on 49ers' Borland ... and others

Patriots v Chargers

(Photos courtesy of the San Diego Chargers)

By Clark Judge

Talk of Fame Network

Junior Seau is going into the Hall of Fame because of the impact he had on football. He was, as opponents used to say, a force that had to be recognized. But that was then, and this is now … and now, six years after Junior Seau left the game and nearly three years after his death, he’s still having an impact.

And Chris Borland is the evidence.

Borland is the San Francisco linebacker who, at 24, decided to retire after one year of professional football, and don’t tell me that Junior Seau didn’t have something to do with this … because I guarantee he did. Borland didn’t cite him as a reason for quitting, but he didn’t need to. He mentioned Mike Webster and Dave Duerson and Ray Easterling – all former football players who were found to suffer from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) after their deaths.

Junior Seau was another. But Seau was more than the latest in a line of players whose deaths are linked to brain injuries. His suicide became the tipping point for some players who decided that, no, they’d rather not end up like Junior Seau … and Chris Borland is one of them.

What makes his story so compelling is not so much that he's 24 or that he led the 49ers in tackles last year. It's that he doesn’t have a history of concussions -- though he did admit to suffering what he believed to be one during training camp last summer.

And that's where Junior Seau comes in. Borland said he played through the injury, but as the issue “gathered steam,” he decided he was more concerned about his life than his career as a football player.

So he retired.

“I just honestly want to do what’s best for my health,” he told ESPN’s Outside the Lines. “From what I’ve researched and what I’ve experienced, I don’t think it’s worth the risk. For me, it’s wanting to be proactive. I’m concerned that if you wait ‘til you have symptoms, it’s too late.”

You can’t read that without thinking of Seau. He was one of the game’s best players and most relentless tacklers, and his suicide at the age of 43 – only three years after his retirement -- had an enormous impact … not only on those who played with and against him but on those who grew up watching him.

Cincinnati’s Jacob Bell was one of them. He retired at 31 in May, 2012, shortly after Seau’s death – and it was Seau who convinced him it was time to go.

“It’s just crazy to see how someone like Junior Seau took his own life over,” he said then. “God knows what he was really struggling and dealing with. But you have to believe it came from the game of football. I want to get out before the game makes me get out; where I can get out on my own terms, and I can limit the amount of stress and negative impact that the game would leave on me.”

Borland came to the same conclusion, and he’s not alone. He’s the fourth player 30 or under who, in the past week, decided to quit – including the linebacker he replaced last season, Patrick Willis. Add cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who retired at 31, and you have five who left in the last seven days.

Each has his own reason, but Borland was clear what his was.

“I just want to live a long, healthy life,” he told ESPN. “And I don’t want to have any neurological diseases or die younger than I would have otherwise.”

When I hear that I realize Junior Seau’s impact was not limited to the football field. Nor was it limited to the era in which he played. And though he’s gone, he continues to influence the game – not only now, as Borland’s retirement attests; but maybe, just maybe, for years to come.