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Tim Ryan unfairly attacked for Chris Borland comments

The news that Chris Borland is retiring from the NFL at the age of 24 has dominated the football conversation today, and it’s led to some thoughtful discussions about the risks and rewards of playing the game. But it’s also led to some nasty attacks and petty insults from those who live to find something to be outraged about.

No one has taken more unfair criticism today than Tim Ryan, the former NFL player who has been ripped apart for comments he made about Borland on KNBR in San Francisco. Multiple websites have reported that Ryan called Borland a “quitter,” and people on Twitter are calling for the 49ers to fire Ryan from his job as an analyst for the team’s preseason games.

One problem: Ryan never called Borland a “quitter.” And Ryan praised Borland repeatedly during his interview on KNBR. You can listen to the full interview right here, or just read some of these things Ryan said about Borland:

“Big props to Chris. I’ve got a lot of respect for him. The selfish side of me is pissed that the 49ers are losing another quality player. . . . Chris was and still is fantastic.”

“The risk isn’t worth the reward for some guys. You may call that superior intelligence because I never would have made that decision, but that cat [Borland] has got a little more intelligence than I do.”

“More power to him, man. Smart guy, gonna have a great life.”

Everyone who wants to find something to be outraged about, however, is ignoring all those things Ryan said and focusing instead on Ryan’s use of the word “quit.” (Ryan did not use the word “quitter” to describe Borland, even though many people have wrongly attributed that word to him.) It’s important to listen to the full context of Ryan’s use of the word “quit.”

Ryan used that word only when asked to compare Borland to fellow 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, who also retired this offseason. Ryan prefaced his statement by talking about how much he loves Borland, and then said that he sees a distinction between choosing to “quit” and choosing to “retire.” In Ryan’s view, the word “retire” -- in football or any other field -- is reserved for people who have had a long, sustained career, whereas the word “quit” is generally used to mean a person who leaves a job after a short time. Ryan wasn’t knocking Borland, he was merely saying that what Borland is doing is fundamentally different from what Willis did.

Ryan’s exact words were, “This isn’t punitive on Borland, and I love the guy and I want to see him play. Patrick Willis retired. Chris Borland quit.”

It’s a lot more fun to attack Ryan for calling Borland a quitter than it is to point out that Ryan never actually called Borland a quitter and said “I love the guy” before pointing out that “quit” and “retire” mean two different things. Look up the two words in the dictionary and you’ll see that Ryan is correct -- the word “retire” means to withdraw from a job “usually because of age.”

At this point, you might be thinking that I’m defending Ryan only because he’s a fellow member of the NFL media, and we all stick together. Well, you’d be wrong. I have only had one personal encounter with Ryan in my life, and that came when he and I butted heads because I criticized him for leaving Calvin Johnson off his All-Pro team in 2012. I have no brief for Ryan.

But I am in favor of fairness and accuracy. Ryan deserves that, and he hasn’t received it.