SEATTLE – Saturday night, America bore witness to the most shocking sports retirement since Michael Jordan’s first exit from the NBA. Coming off the best season of his career, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck decided he was going to walk away from football at the age of 29.
A Pro Bowler in his prime was leaving tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars on the table for the sake of his mental and physical health.
That’s insane. And damn intriguing. Here are seven thoughts on what may well be the biggest sports story of the year
1) Andrew Luck was completely justified in his decision. It’s his body, his brain, his life. Maybe this would be different if it were two weeks before the playoffs and he was bailing on 52 teammates after a season of collective sacrifice.
But when we’re talking about the most violent team sport in the world – in which thousands of ex-players continue to endure its physical and mental tolls – walking away when he did requires no apology.
2) I’m not outraged by the folks in the stadium who booed him when they did. Key phrases: “in the stadium” and “when they did.” Think about who’s still in attendance in the fourth quarter of a preseason game. It’s not your casual beer-and-pizza -with-friends-on-Sunday fans. It’s your Peyton-Manning’s-face-is -tattooed-on-my-back die-hards. And two weeks before the season started, they all just found out via their phones that their star quarterback was walking away.
They didn’t know why. They didn’t know a teary-eyed news conference was coming. And my guess is that most of the people who were jeering regret doing so now.
But in that moment, all they knew was that the end of a championship- less era was concluding with a semblance of a warning. And they probably felt that booing was the only way to express their frustration.
3) It’s understandable why people would be upset that ESPN’s Adam Schefter broke the news during Saturday’s game, but this isn’t on him. Yes, sitting on the story may have prevented all those unsavory boo birds, but this was the biggest NFL scoop in years, and Schefter’s job is to report it. Whoever fed it to Schefter, on the other hand, acted cluelessly at best and maliciously at worst. A midgame bombshell such as that could only result in a postgame mess, and Luck deserved better.
4) Fox Sports radio host/basketball analyst Doug Gottlieb wrote a dumb tweet about Luck that read “retiring cause rehabbing is ‘too hard’ is the most millennial thing ever.” Did he deserve to get skewered for this? Yes. Gottlieb is a public figure who essentially said that Luck, a man who suffered a lacerated kidney, shoulder surgery and a concussion, among other injuries, is a wuss just like most of his generation. But the extent of Gottlieb’s online evisceration may have been more cringe-worthy than his tweet.
Myriad athletes and journalists ripped him, the most biting of which came from fellow Fox analyst Troy Aikman. That’s fine. But there was also an avalanche of people who chided him for a credit-card scandal he was involved in 23 years ago, for which he has profusely apologized. That’s not fine.
As Omar from “The Wire” might say, “There are rules to this here game.” The credit-card tweets broke those rules, and is a testament to how frightening sending off a tweet can be sometimes.
5) In terms of the future of football, I’m not sure Luck’s retirement signifies much. One can speculate that all the attention focused on brain and body injuries over the years could spawn some kind of NFL exodus, but the reason Luck’s decision was so shocking is because there aren’t many young players following suit. You hear more and more athletes talking about how they don’t want their kids playing football – such as LeBron James or Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright. But football’s popularity doesn’t seem to be waning much. Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray chose the NFL over MLB despite the healthy salary awaiting him in baseball. High school football numbers are down slightly, but is still king of prep sports by far. Americans love playing this game. Might not be the smartest choice, but it’s a choice people keep making.
6) Colts fans’ attempts to get season-ticket refunds is warranted. It probably won’t happen, but you can’t blame them for trying. Luck didn’t suffer a freak injury – he retired and caused Indy’s playoff hopes to nosedive. I’ve heard some people say that Colts fans have been spoiled by having Manning and Luck as their QBs over the past two decades, and there’s truth to that. But this is still a product, and Indy’s product just got significantly worse.
7) I think Luck will be back one day. He is 29 and has a skill set that only a handful of people in the league can match. He plays a position that the NFL goes out of its way to protect. And to get to the level that Luck reached, your competitive wiring has to border on obsessive. I could be wrong about this. In fact, part of me hopes I am, because it means Luck found happiness. But I have a feeling that he is going to hear from Colts fans again while wearing a helmet and pads. Next time, though, it won’t be boos.
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