In case you haven’t heard, Andrew Luck (quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts) recently announced his retirement, to the surprise of everyone. For those less inclined to watch football this is huge because Luck was, for all intents and purposes, the centerpiece of the Colts franchise. A Stanford grad and seemingly decent dude, he blindsided everyone by making his announcement before a preseason game.
In most cases, athletes tend to retire at the end of their respective sports’ seasons, usually citing age and declining performance as factors. What makes Luck’s situation so peculiar is that he’s relatively young (29) and in a sport known for its hyperviolence, quarterbacks tend to have longer careers than other positions; Tom Brady, for example, is 42 and just received and extension with the Patriots. For a qb that young to essentially walk away from millions of dollars is reflective of a larger issue in the National Football League–the increasing awareness of how much damage the sport does to its athletes.
My wife and I have been watching the Netflix series “Last Chance U”. I’d already seen it, but didn’t mind watching it again because it’s really good. You see these kids throwing their bodies around, knocking the everloving piss out of each other, in hopes that they’ll eventually get Division-I scholarship offers and, eventually, get drafted into the NFL. Time and time again, these kids (some of them as young as 17) battle through injuries, lifetimes of poverty and socioeconomic struggles, all while saying “all I know is football. I gotta make it.” Your heart breaks when you realize that the odds of a high-schooler eventually making it to the NFL are jarringly slim–just 0.08 percent of high school football players will make it to the pros.
But then, what if they do make it? What’s the cost? Even if, say, they don’t go broke, don’t suffer a career ending injury, what then? They have this to look forward to. And this. And also this. So Luck, rather than have his brain rattled into early onset dementia, retired. And what does he get in return? Hot takes. Crowds booing at him.
I grew up in Texas, so naturally football is a part of my psyche. I’m in a fantasy football league, which measures athlete performance by a set criteria week after week. And yet, I’m become more and more disillusioned with the sport knowing just how much it asks of its laborers and how little it gives back in return. I’m part of the problem, for sure and its part of the reason why I’ve transitioned to watching basketball instead–I feel less complicit in the offenses the sport commits on its employees.
Andrew Luck isn’t a “millennial snowflake” – he read his coverage and made the call to sacrifice short term gain for long-term dividends. To treat him as some sort of traitor to a sport or team is disingenuous at best, completely insidious at worst. And if you feel the need to fire off your own spicy hot take, think about people like hall of fame linebacker Junior Seau, who was so debilitated by CTE that he died by suicide after suffering from years of mood swings. This is a symptom of a larger problem within the NFL, one that won’t go away, no matter how many obstacles the league tries to put in front of it. Luck knows the game all too well and made a choice. People like Doug Gottlieb are contemptible ratfucks for giving Luck even a modicum of static for it because they’re not the ones who will forget their family members’ names, or become violently angry at the drop of a hat for absolutely no reason, or will only live until the ripe-old age of 52. Luck made the right call, and I sincerely hope there is a place in hell reserved for people like Gottlieb.