There are two schools of thought regarding quarterback Andrew Luck’s sudden and shocking retirement from the NFL.
One is an enlightened view that values intellect over emotion and considers everything we know about pro football and the exhausting toil on its players. The other is a remnant of Cro-Magnon thinking and Neanderthal reasoning, full of archaic thoughts that limit masculinity to grit and toughness.
The latter paradigm was evidenced Saturday night at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis, after news of Luck’s startling decision spread during the Colts’ exhibition game. As the four-time All-Pro walked off the field for, conceivably, the last time, fans said goodbye with a chorus of boos and streams of obscenities.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hear the reaction,” Luck said during his retirement news conference later that evening. “It hurt.”
Words hurt? That only proved the point for everyone who parted their lips to curse Luck for retiring a couple of weeks before the season opens — and everyone else who criticized him for leaving three weeks before his 30th birthday.
They consider him soft and selfish for the act. They couldn’t care less about the cycle of injuries, pain, and rehabilitations that Luck said has “taken my joy of this game away.”
His explanation wasn’t enough for lunkheads like radio hosts Doug Gottlieb and Dan Dakich. Gottlieb tweeted that “retiring because rehabbing is ‘too hard’ is the most millennial thing ever.” Dakich tweeted that “I have family working in steel mills … cops … teachers making far less and this guy is ‘tired’ … my backside.”
According to those of like minds, only two reasons would offer sufficient grounds for Luck’s retirement: being physically unable to continue or too old to play at a high level.
Never mind that “early retirement” is a dream scenario that most of us would leap at. Never mind that a classic reason to retire is winning the lottery, which Luck has done, with nearly $100 million in career earnings. Never mind that retirement doesn’t mark the end of one’s life, only the completion of a particular phase.
Unfortunately, fans and some media types believe that they’re “owed” by athletes like Luck. He owes them to play until he can’t play anymore. To ignore the pain associated with his laundry list of injuries. To place their joy and entertainment ahead of his peace and satisfaction.
“I’m going to retire,” he said during the news conference, choking up at times. “This is not an easy decision. It’s honestly the hardest decision of my life. But it’s the right decision for me.”
Football has a way of chewing up participants and releasing them from the other end. They often leave battered and broken, at best, or with damaged brains, at worst. The short-term thrill can carry a lifetime bill, an exchange that players make of their own free will, like participants in other extreme sports. It’s a risk-reward calculation that can deliver riches and fame accompanied by injuries and pain.
Luck’s former teammates and counterparts on 31 other NFL teams are continuing their preparations for Week 1. Aspiring pros are just getting underway in college. Luck doesn’t begrudge any player for forging ahead with football, which he still loves dearly.
“This has been my personal journey in football, and everybody’s journey is different,” he said. “I don’t have a bunch of anger or resentment toward the game. My journey has had some ups and downs and physically has taken its toil over the last eight years, mentally and emotionally, too.”
He’s giving up roughly $450 million in guaranteed and potential future earnings, a step that surely isn’t taken lightly. But his decision is based on principle, not principal, a concept that many observers struggle to comprehend.
Even with the riches it provides, football wasn’t allowing Luck to “live the life I want to live,” specifically regarding his health. “I felt stuck in it,” he said, “and the only way I see out is to no longer play football.”
So, he retired.
Or, if you prefer, he quit.
There’s no shame in either term under these circumstances. People retire and/or quit every day, deciding they’d rather do something else or nothing at all. Luck has a beautiful wife, a child on the way, and the rest of his life ahead of him. He might be a half-billion dollars poorer, but he’ll be in a better place physically, mentally and emotionally.
“I want to thank football for so many wonderful moments in my life and the pressure, circumstances and environment that pushed me to grow, learn, and change in so many meaningful ways,” he said. “It’s the greatest team sport in the world.”
But he didn’t want to keep playing and he didn’t have to.
⦁ Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.