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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Andrew Luck’s retirement reminds us of the darker side of the NFL

In a league that does too little to protect players, Andrew Luck found his happiness taken away by constant rehabilitation, injuries

Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement from the NFL reflects the darker implications of a sport that humans are not meant to play. A Stanford graduate and generational talent, Luck is the most fascinating NFL figure of the past decade. As shocking as Luck’s retirement may be, it is commonplace in a sport’s league that makes billions off its players, but doesn’t make player health and safety a priority. Just look at the sudden retirements of Calvin Johnson and Rob Gronkowski –– both players who retired in their prime within a year of their 30th birthday due to constant injuries.  

What made Luck so fascinating was how human he was in a league that lacks fascinating and visible stars. He even started a book club in his locker room and a book club podcast because he loves a good story. He’s the quarterback who congratulates defenders on good hits, even though during his career, he was hit 60 more times than any other player. In a sport so violent, Luck was a force of relentless optimism, until the sport he loved no longer allowed him to be. 

The loss of Luck to the league will no doubt have a major effect on the Colts’ win-loss record. But it will also affect locker rooms around the league — as one of the most gifted players in league history retired because the game physically and mentally destroyed him. 

“For the last four years or so, I’ve been in this cycle — injury, pain, rehab, injury, pain, rehab — and it’s been unceasing … And I’ve felt stuck in it,” Luck said. “And the only way I see out is to no longer play football. It’s taken my joy of this game away.”

And who’s responsible for this pain? Is that just the nature of the sport? Does it suck the joy and happiness out of life? It is a multitude of factors that led to this situation. 

The first to blame would be the Colt’s former general manager, Ryan Grigson, who surrounded Luck with a dismal supporting class during the first five years of his career. Grigson’s inability to protect his franchise superstar led to Luck taking blow after blow, with a weak offensive line in front of him. 

The second factor to blame is the league itself. In a recent article, Calvin Johnson exposed the ineptitude of both his former organization and the league. “It’s not about the welfare of the players,” Johnson said. “It’s just about having that product.” Luck’s situation is almost exactly the same. Player safety is a major issue for the league. With any sport there is a chance of injury, but in the NFL players are physically throwing their full body weight at opposing players with forces of over 1,600 pounds. NFL quarterbacks like Luck are asked to take countless hits of that nature play after play, game after game. 

After the news of Luck’s retirement leaked to the media during a meaningless preseason game, fans booed Luck as he walked off the field for the last time. Luck’s retirement has been considered as treason by media and fans. In any other profession, if a 29-year-old were to retire because their job was constantly tearing their bodies apart and putting them out of work, leaving that job would seem like the only choice. But this is the NFL, a sport where standing up (or kneeling down) for what you believe in will get you blacklisted by the league and fans alike. 

The reaction to Luck’s retirement by Indianapolis fans highlights the inappropriate sense of entitlement among NFL fans that is far too common today. How do you boo a guy who dedicated his health to your organization and city? At the end of the day, Luck owes the fans nothing — for them to boo a man who lost the love of the game and the happiness it brought him is the worst kind of reaction. Fans should celebrate the winning years, records set and football magic that Luck brought after being drafted to their team, following one of the worst seasons in history. 

His decision is not cowardice, it’s courageous. Granted, that decision is much easier when you’ve already made over $100 million in your career, but to walk away from the fame and the accolades is brave. 

Luck can do any number of things now. He can travel and study the architecture of the world, he can try his hand at commentating or he could read all the books for which he never had the time. He’s free now and about to be a father —  he won’t have any problem staying busy. 

Written by: Calvin Coffee — cscoffee@ucdavis.edu


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