The NFL was seemingly shaken to its core when the news of Andrew Luck’s retirement broke. And then an interesting phenomenon occurred. In a flight of selfishness and self-centered incompetence, fans booed. As Luck walked off the field for the final time as a member of the Indianapolis Colts a chorus of boos fell from the Lucas Oil Stadium.
Obviously, the biggest news in the NFL found its way onto the MHR Radio Podcast (Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify). Ian St. Clair and I had an interesting discussion about the toll the game takes on players’ bodies and minds. Football is a tough game, and injuries are difficult to come back from. Jake Butt, who could be on the Denver Broncos cut list, is a prime example of what the game does, and how hard it is to make it back from injury.
Luck’s decision to walk away from the sport that he loves was heartbreaking to watch, which makes the booing, and mean tweets all the more ridiculous. And what it shows is that some fans have no sense of perspective. While players sacrifice their bodies, they do it for themselves. Our enjoyment as fans should never make us forget that players are people who feel pain, go through depression, and struggle just like the rest of us.
It also points the spotlight on a major issue the with which NFL will have to contend. Player health is driving players away. Injuries, rehab, pain killers, all become a vicious cycle. Rob Gronkowski walked away from football because he no longer enjoyed the game. He recently spoke about his retirement, and his loss of joy. He knows that he may want to play again in the future, but the damage is too much for him.
Current players are seeing the effects of the game on older players, and they are walking away. The money that they make affords them the opportunity to leave the game earlier. The desire to live a life without pain, or mental health issues also helps drive players away.
What can the NFL do? How does the NFL avoid losing players that just want to live their lives pain free? How can they help players heal without pumping chemicals in their bodies, and constantly sending them under the knife? These are the questions that should drive the next phase of the league.
There is an opportunity here. To avoid having great players walk away early, the NFL should be proactive in looking at alternative methods for pain management. They could control the research, use it, and own it. This could be the key to helping players stay healthy, get healthy, and remain in the league.
Luck’s decision to walk away. Gronk’s decision to retire. Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, Chris Borland, NaVorro Bowman, Charles Johnson, Barry Sanders, Jim Brown, all retired early for health reasons. Why? How can the NFL help players so they choose to play longer? These are questions that must be answered, or shocking retirements will become the norm.