Andrew Luck shocked the sporting world this weekend when he suddenly announced his retirement, just weeks before the start of the NFL season, at age 29. I’m sure that Luck has been contemplating retirement for some time, but wanted to get back into the swing of training camp and preseason before making such a big decision. Whatever he felt over the past few days obviously solidified it enough for him to walk away from football for good.
Luck is just the latest in what is becoming a trend among NFL players; guys who are relatively young, some of them very much in the prime of their careers, who decide to hang up the cleats. Barry Sanders retired at 30, as did Tiki Barber, Calvin Johnson, and Patrick Willis. Chris Borland left the game at 24. Our very own Rob Gronkowski just hung it up at 29, as his body was beginning to break down. Luck is doing what he feels is right for him, and the outpouring of support from players, both former and current, has been overwhelming. There has yet to be a single athlete who questioned Luck’s decision. His head’s not in it anymore, so he’s walking away.
And I don’t blame him in the slightest, to be honest. The kid isn’t even 30 years old yet and his body is broken. Calf issues, ankle issues, lacerated kidneys, shoulder surgeries...why continue to put your body through that? As we learn more and more about just how harmful professional football is and how many former players are unable to live normal, healthy lives after they leave the NFL, don’t be surprised to see more and more players leave the game well before the age when they’re “supposed” to retire. The NFL has shown time and time again that it doesn’t care about these guys once they’re no longer playing; a simple internet search of “NFL player health care” will tell you all you need to know about what kind of treatment these guys get post-NFL career. Or maybe spend a few minutes perusing the Twitter accounts of former players who have been coming out of the woodwork over the past few years to shed light on how long it takes them to get out of bed in the morning or the myriad mental health issues they’re struggling with. So why would Andrew Luck, a smart guy with a wife and child on the way, put himself through any more punishment? Why would he risk sacrificing the next 50 years of his life (assuming he even lives that long, the average life expectancy of an NFL player is a shocking 53 to 59 years) for a few more years of beatings and the risk of irreparable damage? He has plenty of money, he lived his dream. Moving on is smart, and I fully support any player who sees the writing on the wall and gets out while he can still do so without the use of a wheelchair.
Which makes me appreciate Tom Brady all that much more. When Andrew Luck was drafted in 2012, Brady had already been in the league for over a decade. He wants to play for three more years. Every decision he makes is geared towards keeping his body in peak condition to handle the long and grueling NFL season. He has had three separate Hall of Fame worthy careers, and he could have retired at any point after 2005 or so with his status as an all-time great cemented. But he just keeps chugging along, adding to an already bulletproof resume, and doing what he needs to do to maintain his motivation and fuel his love for the game. There will never, ever be another Tom Brady, for so many reasons, and one of those reasons is that players are wising up to a league that uses them up and spits them out without much of a second thought, so they’re getting out earlier so as to have a chance at an enjoyable life. I hope he slides every time he takes the ball and runs. I hope he turtles before every potential sack. I hope he throws the ball away at the slightest hint of danger. It’s just not worth it, for anybody.
Whatever Andrew Luck does next, I wish him continued happiness and success. I personally hope that he joins the NFPLA as a representative to help fight for adequate health care, pensions, and benefits for former players; the players side could use a few more smart minds as they clash with Roger Goodell’s small army of lawyers because Integrity. But if he wants to just take his amazing neckbeard and drop off the face of the earth, he’s earned that as well.