Before he became a star QB, the successor to Peyton Manning. and a potential Hall of Fame level NFL quarterback, Andrew Luck graduated from Stanford University. That is an indication that in addition to being a talented football player, Luck is a very smart guy.
Luck was drafted with the 1st overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. After playing seven years with the Indianapolis Colts at an extremely high level, just before this season started Luck announced that he was retiring. His announcement came as a great shock to the media, the Colts fan base, and the public, because he was just 29 years old and was widely regarded as one of the best quarterbacks on the planet entering his 8th year in the NFL. He had also just signed a huge contract extension. Luck’s decision was based on the accumulation of injuries over his career and the fact that he wanted to be safe and live a normal life after his football career.
Although many were surprised and some were upset, the decision to retire was a very smart decision on his part.
Clearly, playing football has its positives and negatives. Players make millions of dollars, but in exchange, they risk severe injury. Some of the common physical injuries include broken arms, legs, ankles, and ribs, torn knee and ankle ligaments. There is also a huge risk at getting a concussion or other brain injury. Hits to the head can lead to serious brain damage and injuries like CTE, which have brutal long term effects on the players.
As a result, a number of players have decided to forgo their career as an NFL player and retire from the league.
When the 29-year-old Luck retired, he did not start a trend; he joined one. In “Andrew Luck and The Path To Walk Away” Sports Illustrated’s Michael Rosenberg wrote about other early NFL retirees and their views on Andrew Luck’s retirement. These former players included former 49ers star linebacker Chris Borland, former Steelers running back Rashaad Mendenhall, and former Lions linebacker Deandre Levy. All of these players retired early from the NFL, just like Andrew Luck, due to injuries and thinking about their future instead of the present.
Chris Borland retired after his rookie year with the 49ers in 2015, after a season in which he was considered one of the best defensive players in football. Like Luck, Borland made the decision to retire young for health reasons and fears about his quality of health and quality of life later on if he kept playing longer. Borland said, “I just honestly want to do what’s best for my health. From what I’ve researched and what I’ve experienced, I don’t think it’s worth the risk.”
Today’s NFL players still love football, but more than ever, many fear the post-retirement life of physical pain and potentially life-changing mental problems. The danger is not only quality of their future life, but life itself. They have to hope they do not end up like Mike Webster, Junior Seau or Dave Duerson. All of these men ended up dying from their football brain injuries, which led to CTE and suicide. Some – like Luck and Borland – will retire; others will continue to play and risk danger.
In former NFL player Nate Jackson’s excellent article in Deadspin, “Football Doesn’t Let You Leave,” Jackson wrote about his own experience with football injuries and his early retirement. He describes the trap of football. When you’re playing, you’re playing for glory and fame and a legacy. But the long-term effects of the game are serious and can affect the rest of your life.
As Jackson put it:
“And so you play until they drag your lifeless body from the grass, and it’s all you can do to muster a thumbs-up as they wheel you into the tunnel, knowing that’s how you secure your legacy. Every football player knows how to make that sacrifice. But few know how to walk away. That seems to be changing, and thank god for that.”
The reality of “living the dream” was much different than what he thought his dream of being a football player would be:
“It was never my dream to be lying on a training table for four hours a day, hooked up to machines, ice bags strapped to my body, while my teammates went to meetings and practiced. It was never my dream to wake up in the morning and wonder how I’d get through the day, to drive to work in pain and confusion, on the verge of tears, trying to understand how things got to this point.”
This really drives home how devastating football injuries really are, and how hard it is to continue to play in the NFL without suffering a debilitating injury.
Listening to the stories and thoughts of all of these men, Andrew Luck really did make a smart decision.
Throughout his seven-year career, Andrew Luck has made more than $90 million, more than enough to last a lifetime if invested and used properly. Having attended Stanford University and with a good head on his shoulders, Luck should be able to spend and invest his money wisely.
In fact, Luck most likely won’t have to work another day in his life, unless he wants to. He has the ability to have a very flexible schedule for the rest of his life. He can spend time with his family, something he has been unable to do recently due to the rigorous schedule of the NFL. Most importantly he can have time to himself. He needs to heal, both mentally and physically.
Perhaps Luck will return to the NFL in some form some day, maybe as a commentator, or maybe he will find another job that interests him. Time will tell.
For the time being though, what we can say is that Luck was one of the few players smart enough to save himself before it was too late.
Perhaps others will look to Luck’s example – and the example of those who came before him – and do the same before it is too late for them too.
Photo Credit: Associated Press/FILE
This is Jacob Kasdan’s debut article for The Good Men Project and Good Men Project Sports!