The shock surrounding the news Saturday night of Andrew Luck’s retirement from football shouldn’t have been “Why would he quit?”
The shock should be “Why anyone would play football?”
The reaction to Luck’s decision, at the age of 29, to walk away from his career with the Indianapolis Colts and the millions of future dollars to be earned, was one of disbelief. Unless and until rational thought kicks in.
A cursory examination of what the star quarterback has put his body through during his NFL career reveals a life of misery, pain and suffering — torn rib cartilages, torn abdomen, lacerated kidney, blood in the urine, torn shoulder, concussions, chronic shoulder injuries, lower leg ailments. Those are the ailments that we know about.
Is it a list of injuries more dramatic than what many other NFL players live through to get on the field every week? Probably not — which should give everyone pause.
If this kind of damage to your body is simply chalked up to the cost of doing business, then it is time to perhaps hit the pause button on the business you have chosen.
Which brings us to Jordan Reed.
When the news broke about Andrew Luck, all I could think of was Redskins tight end Jordan Reed and the seventh documented concussion he suffered last Thursday night in the preseason game against Atlanta, a devastating blow to a brain that has likely suffered significant damage already.
Luck found himself asking the kind of questions every NFL player should be asking — the ones that perhaps scare them because the answers are difficult to face. “I’ve been stuck in this process,” Luck said. “I haven’t been able to live the life I want to live. It’s taken the joy out of this game … the only way forward for me is to remove myself from football.”
The decision surprisingly comes after Luck appeared to have revived his career last year, when he bounced back from questions about whether he would ever be able to play again, to throw for 4,593 yards and 39 touchdowns to win the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award.
But Luck saw the price he paid for that comeback, and concluded it wasn’t worth it.
“I’m in pain; I’m still in pain,” he said. “It’s been four years of this pain, rehab cycle. It’s a myriad of issues — calf strain, posterior ankle impingement, high ankle sprain. Part of my journey going forward will be figuring out how to feel better.”
Reed is likely to face the same question, post-career. Can he find a way to feel better? He may, through some perverted practice of NFL voodoo, get back on the field again. But seven concussions will come with a price.
After suffering his sixth concussion in October 2016, Reed told The New York Times that the headaches from concussion No. 5 were gone, as well as the nausea and erratic bouts of anger. He admitted then that he had initially hid his latest injury from Redskins doctors.
“I have faith in God and I pray,” Reed told the Times then. “But just because you have a few concussions, doesn’t mean it’s going to cause brain damage. I could have C.T.E. just from playing in high school.”
Reed had just signed a five-year, $47 million contract extension that year, and he spoke of giving his family a secure financial future. “I can’t just give up. You know what I mean?”
Now he’s up to No. 7.
Will Luck’s decision resonate with the 29-year-old? Is Reed listening to what Luck said?
Beside concussions, Reed has had a long history of injuries that have made it difficult for him to stay on the field. He has chronic foot problems and surgeries and he has to undergo an extensive therapy program every day to practice. He follows up with a similar maintenance program when he steps away. It’s been a struggle for Reed to play without even considering the possibility of incurring brain damage.
On the eve of a season when he seems poised to contribute again as a starter — he has yet to play a full season and has missed at least 17 games since he signed that contract extension — Reed is staring into that same dark hole that Luck did, the cumulative damage done.
“We’re quite confident that Jordan will be fine,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden told reporters.
Reed will never be “fine.”
The hidden damage done is so frightening, no one wants to face it.
As if we needed another document of damage, several weeks ago a University of Rochester study suggested brain injuries from routine hits during a football season may need more than six months to heal. It showed that the school’s football players wearing force-measuring devices in their helmets “experienced a decrease in the structural integrity of their brains” after one season, even if they did not suffer a concussion.
Again, the rational question should be: “Why would anyone play this game?”
⦁ Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday and Sunday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.