- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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Rashean Mathis always paid attention to health and safety issues around the NFL. The cornerback has been around for over a decade and consumes as much information as he possibly can about brain trauma and CTE associated with football.
He’s been remarkably healthy throughout his career, but the 34-year-old has understood the risks he takes. It’s part of why when the Detroit Lions cornerback heard about San Francisco linebacker Chris Borland retiring after one season in the league, he was both surprised -- and not, especially because he doesn’t know Borland’s situation personally.
“I’m not questioning his decision at all,” Mathis said. “He’s a man, and he made a decision to retire after one year. That means he has other means to support his life. He has another way to make a living and that’s what this game is, it’s a way for us to make a living and that’s how we treat it as such. It’s a business for us.
“You have another business opportunity and you’re able to make an honest living of it, I don’t see anything wrong with going the other way.”
Could this lead to a massive shift of who plays football at both the highest levels -- if at all? Could this be the start of a trend not only of who plays in the league but how long players choose to play?
Mathis wasn’t buying that. He believes people are always going to play football. But he understands the thought. Mathis has said multiple times he would rather his son, Rashean Jr., play golf instead of football due to pounding your body takes.
“I don’t think it’ll be that big of a trend. Certain individuals will always play football. Football will always have the most athletic people in the world just because of what it takes to play it,” Mathis said. “To speak on it a little more, I think your financial status going into it might determine whether you decide to pick it up or not, maybe, but at the same time, you have some of the wealthiest people in this world who love this game and would love for their child to play this game.
“So there’s two sides to every coin. It just depends on what side you flip. You can argue both sides, but this is the greatest game in the world."
On Wednesday at Michigan State pro day, many of the Spartans entering the NFL competed against Borland when he was at Wisconsin. Running back Jeremy Langford said he and his teammates had not talked about the issues Borland raised much, and he figured Borland “just wanted to protect himself.”
Cornerback Trae Waynes, who is projected to be a first-round pick this spring, said he both supports and understands Borland’s decision to retire. Waynes said concerns over potential injuries -- not head injuries but injuries in general -- helped prompt his decision to leave Michigan State with a year of eligibility remaining.
“You saw [Marcus] Lattimore,” Waynes said. “You saw Ifo [Ekpre-Olomu]. I know him, too. There were some other guys that had some crazy injuries right before, they could have left their junior year and still went first round but they chose to come back.
“And it was unfortunate to see that happen to them, but that’s a risk I didn’t really feel comfortable taking.”
Both Waynes and Langford understood the same thing, though. Football is a rough game. They still choose to play it.