Andrew Luck has gone through a carousel of injuries. Tore the cartilage in two ribs. Tore his abdomen. Lacerated his kidney. Concussions. Torn labrum in his right shoulder. Calf and/or ankle injury.
These injuries are not unusual of a typical NFL quarterback. It’s part of the game. It’s a part of professional sports as a whole. It’s not inconceivable that a 29 year old, with all of his life ahead of him — a family, a potential career after football, and more importantly, a relatively healthy body and brain — wants to walk away from the constant physical and mental pain that playing professional football puts you through.
Professional athletes shouldn’t get to the point that Rob Gronkowski got to earlier this week. Gronk — former Patriots tight end –was brought to tears while speaking about the type of joy that football took from his life, and how something that he used to love was simply no longer enjoyable. He spoke about how he took a hit during Super Bowl LIII on his quad that required three procedures to drain over 1000 mL of blood from it, and how he couldn’t sleep for more than 20 minutes a night. The night following the hit, he lay in bed in tears, unable to move or sleep.
For these reasons, we were shocked & appalled to see the reactions from fans & analysts about Luck’s retirement. Fans booed Luck as he walked off the field after his retirement was announced. Andrew Luck showed up to a meaningless preseason game when he knew he was retiring, and fans ripped him. Doug Gottlieb, FS1 analyst, (never played football) fired out a rather ignorant tweet about Luck’s retirement, calling it the most “millennial thing ever”.
His defense of this tweet was equally as pathetic.
Bleacher Report published an insightful article following Luck’s announcement, about the culture of the NFL and what needs to change so that players don’t run their bodies to the ground during their professional football careers. It provided really helpful changes the NFL can think about (like shortening or eliminating the preseason), in order to reduce unnecessary physical and mental tolls on the players.
However, we think a bigger conversation needs to be addressed about the culture of athletes as a whole. Athletes are praised for playing through injuries. We’re supposed to “walk it off,” and be tougher than everyone else. Rub some dirt on it. This mentality is pushed onto young athletes, and they carry it with them throughout their careers.
Ask any athlete, and they’ll tell you how frustrating the rehab process is after a significant injury, or series of injuries. Retired NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz penned in an SB Nation article how difficult rehab is for athletes:
“There’s no other way to put it: Rehab is a freakin’ bitch. Nothing happens quickly, which is expected, but it’s so difficult for athletes who are often ultra competitive and aren’t used to their bodies failing them. Besides the strides being small and often hard to notice, you’re in pain — constant pain until the injury is healed, which can take months. Rehab during the season might be even more grueling. You’re supposed to be playing, but you’re rehabbing an injury instead. It’s a lonely feeling. You go to meetings, maybe watch practice, but that’s it. You’re ignored as you fight back from an injury.”
They put their minds & bodies at serious risk in order to fulfill some ridiculous expectation that they’re supposed to do it. Side effects of serious injuries often follow athletes long after they leave the field. The culture of athletics is, and always has been this way, and we commend Andrew Luck for making the decision to walk away when football stopped bringing him joy. While pro athletes are entertaining for us, their main goal in life is not to entertain us. They’re human beings. They have their own independent goals and aspirations. It’s time for us to treat them like that.
Listen to Calling Game’s podcast on all this below:
[featured photo via Tom Pennington/Getty Images]
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