Former University of Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland spoke harshly of the football program and his brief time in the NFL on a Netflix documentary released this week.
Borland was featured in two of three parts of “Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez,” a documentary detailing the life and death of Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots tight end who was convicted of murder and took his own life while in prison.
Borland, an Ohio native who won three Big Ten Championships during his Badgers career, criticized the program and college football as a whole for the position it puts players in.
“At Wisconsin, I was taken aback by how serious practice was taken. I was playing on every special team, I was running scout team, I was running with our twos on defense. Objectively, just like, too much of a load for anybody. And I saw, you know, a line of our upperclassmen with their pants to their knees just waiting to get their Toradol injection. And I didn’t know this at 18, I thought, ‘Oh my God, these 15 upperclassmen starters are taking steroids before the game.’ Completely naïve. I later found out it was Toradol, this painkiller that our team docs would administer so guys could play with whatever they had going on,” Borland said in the second part of the series.
“To see that at 18, that was really enlightening to just how seriously it’s taken. Kind of my first glimpse at, ‘This is very real. It’s a big industry. And they’re willing to put in basically kids, young men, in situations that will compromise their long-term health just to beat Northwestern.’”
Brian Lucas, UW’s Director of Football Brand Communications, said players’ well-being is “first and foremost” in their decision-making process.
“We can't get into specifics of what Chris spoke about but we can tell you that for every individual, when they are injured, we go through a process that they need to clear before they are allowed back on the field. That process is different for each individual and each injury but we do not clear anyone until our medical staff says they are fit to return. Our team physicians do not allow them to return if we feel the student-athletes would in any way be exposing themselves to anything but the normal injury risk associated with football,” Lucas said.
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“Our team physicians prescribe our student-athletes a variety of medications, including oral Toradol. The limited usage of Toradol is administered by our team physicians and closely monitored. When it is administered, it is done so with the consent of the student-athlete, who is provided educational materials regarding benefits and possible side effects, before they consent.”
Borland’s participation in the documentary focuses on the link between repeated head trauma in football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease that has been found in a number of NFL veterans. UW alum and former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster was the first person to be diagnosed with the disease, which has led some afflicted players to dementia and suicide.
Borland, who tallied 366 total tackles for UW, said he was so focused on being successful as a player that he could block out the risks.
“When you’re so focused and when so much internal and external expectations are put on you, all of that stuff doesn’t matter, it’s out of mind, out of sight. I wanted to be a Hall of Fame linebacker. I think that’s why you can ignore a Junior Seau’s suicide,” he said.
That changed after his rookie season with the San Francisco 49ers.
After being drafted in the third round of the 2014 NFL draft and recording 107 tackles as a rookie, he retired in March 2015 due to concerns of head trauma. Borland said in the documentary he felt symptoms of concussions like ringing in his ears and imbalance on a weekly basis.
Since his retirement, Borland has been vocal about his decision and that he believes football to be dangerous.
“In my minimal interaction with folks high in the NFL, I think there’s a certain degree of hubris,” Borland said.
“They own a day of the week, football’s a religion, and no matter whether or not they’re throwing a flag or claiming concussions are down or taking players into the blue tent, the reason football’s the most popular sport is because it’s violent. So they’re not in the health business, they’re in the violence business. Players joke that Dracula runs the blood bank.”