It has been a tumultuous week in the world of the NFL. Andrew Luck has retired, citing nagging injury and the impact it has had on his mental fitness, his love of the game and the desire to play the game he loves as a career. Luck has faced numerous injuries over his career, a sampling of those injuries are below. Keep in mind, Luck was drafted #1 over all in the 2012 draft, and in the 7 years since he has been drafted, he has missed at least one full season (2017) and parts of others. He has not come even close to a career that befits a player of his stature and ability:
- Torn cartilage in 2 ribs
- partially torn abdomen
- a lacerated kidney that left him peeing blood
- at least 1 concussion
- a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder
- and this mysterious calf/ankle issue that led to his retirement
That's just in 7 years as an active member of the NFL and as the franchise quarterback of the Colts. The game is brutal, it is savage, and it is dangerous, yet it is the most popular game in the US, more so than baseball, basketball and yes, even "soccer", the most popular game in the world. Boys start playing football at young ages, some as young as six or seven years old in "pee wee" leagues sponsored by local towns and organizations. WE love to go to the games, we love to watch them on TV, and yes we love to play "fantasy football" each and every season (including me) to live vicariously through the lives and abilities of our "heroes" and "role models". I was raised on the NFL, being drawn to it as a young boy of the '70's, with idols such as Roger Staubach, Jack Youngblood, Franco Harris, Ken "The Snake" Stabler, and Jack Lambert. I loved the history, the glory, the beauty, and yes, the violence of the game in its pure form, never realizing what these "idols" of mine went through on a weekly basis.
Over the years we have begun to peel back the layers of what the toll on these players is over the course of their careers, including but not limited to, migraines, physical disability, mental anguish, chronic pain, and short life spans for some, up to and including suicide in the most extreme cases. Yet we still sit in front of our TV's each week, go to the stadiums, go to sports bars, and tailgate with our friends to celebrate this sport and how much we love it. One of my most fondest memories was going to a Cleveland Browns game in 1989 with my father at the old Municipal Stadium in Cleveland on a Monday Night to watch the Browns Play the Eric Dickerson-led Indianapolis Colts. The Browns won that game and the stadium was electric with 80,000 screaming fans, and I was in heaven, it was one of the best times I had with my dad, and trust me, those times were few and far between, but we both shared a love for the Browns and rooted for them all of our lives.
Fast-forward to Saturday night this past weekend. I was watching the first college football game of the season - Miami Hurricanes vs Florida Gators from Orlando and it was a terrible game, lot of penalties, mistakes, turnovers, it was ugly, but I didn't care, it was the first "real" game of the season and I was happy to watch it. I always have my tweet deck up in the office when I am watching TV, and all of sudden I saw a tweet come across from Adam Schefter of ESPN that announced that Andrew Luck was retiring at 29 years old. I immediately thought, this has to be the "fake" Shefter account and could not possibly be real, but sure enough, there was the blue check of authenticity telling me that this was a real tweet and not a parody account. I was stunned... I could not believe it... But then as more information came across the wire I suddenly realized that it all made sense, because I had witnessed his entire career, and remember how much time he has spent on the sideline injured with one thing or another, and how much of toll it had to have had on his body, and as a result, his desire and love of the game.
Then I see the ugly side of professional sports, not from the side of the player or coach, but from the fans and the sports writers that cover the NFL and make their living off the NFL and its popularity. The fans in Lucas Oil Stadium, the fans that Luck played for, bled for, and sacrificed his body for, BOOED him as he left the field Saturday night after the news broke that he was going to retire. Doug Gottleib, a Fox Sports radio host said "Retiring because rehabbing is too hard is the most Millennial thing ever", and despite the push-back from practically the entire Twitter universe, he doubled down on those comments saying they were nothing more than snark and decided to then complain about Millennial culture.
See this is where you lose me, because those people that have never been in his shoes, never laced them up and played organized sports, whether it be football or any other sport, don't get it. the preparation that goes into getting your body ready week to week in order to be ready to play on Sunday's is something they will never understand, because they have never had to do it. If you want an idea of what these athletes go through on a typical week need only look as far as a 2017 segment Jason Witten did with Peter King on how he recovers from game day each and every week. This is just one example of what it takes weekly to get ready to play the following week. As I mentioned at the start of this post, football is a brutal sport and it is brutal on the body, no matter how good or bad you are at it, it takes a toll on your body and its ability to recover.
Not many players can go out on their own terms, and Luck may or not be going out on his own terms, but he wants to have quality of life, and who can blame him for that. He has a new wife, and she is pregnant with their first child. He wants to be there for them, and be able to enjoy them and live his life to the fullest, who can blame him. The injuries have taken its toll, and he has lost his passion for the game he loves and has decided his desire for having a quality life outweighs his desire to play. I respect him for that as should everyone respect him for that, but the haters will lament and call him soft, weak, and a quitter because they wont be able to draft him on their fantasy team.
So as we prepare for yet another College Football and NFL Football season, let us not forget what these athletes go through, what they have decided to risk, and most of all, admire them for putting their bodies on the line each and every week to entertain us for 3 hours per week. I will be in front of my TV watching, as will millions of other fans across the country, but for me, I will not take them for granted, nor will I criticize them for being human, because I know that their career could end on the very next play... Thank you Andrew for what you brought to the NFL, and may you find happiness in whatever adventure you decide to go on in your next career...
Thank you for reading...
Remember to be kind to each other...
Scott "The Sports Nerd"