Is retiring early from the NFL the new norm?

Photo of Devante J. Carroll courtesy of Carroll

Many boys grow up wanting to play in the NFL. It was even a dream of mine when I was little.

But one thing we don’t think about as kids is how the game can physically impact our bodies as well as our mental state. I’m not trying to discourage anyone’s aspirations from playing in the National Football League, but I am trying to help others think long-term.

As soon as players enter the draft for the NFL, it is immediately imagined that this individual will play many years, possibly into his mid 30s. But after playing in a physically demanding sport for years that requires massive hits to the body and head from other guys that are upward of 300 pounds, leaving the game early suddenly becomes an appealing idea.

The Carolina Panthers star linebacker Luke Kuechly recently announced his retirement at age 28. Kuechly spent his entire eight years with the Panthers and was known as one of the most versatile players at the linebacker position.

“There’s only one way to play this game since I was a little kid— play fast, play physical and play strong,” Kuechly said when announcing his retirement. “And at this point I don’t know if I am able to do that any more. That’s the part that is the most difficult.”

Kuechly said that he still wants to play but continuing to do so wouldn’t be the best decision. Like many other players in the NFL, he endured concussions that can definitely impact your mental state even after retirement. Kuechly has worn an experimental device called the “Q Collar” around his neck for the past three seasons to help reduce the chances of getting a concussion.

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck retired in August at age 29 due to a long career of severe injuries. Luck was mostly known for his injuries that either caused him to miss multiple games or to miss an entire season like he did in 2017.

“I’ve been stuck in this process. I haven’t been able to live the life I want to live,” said Luck. “It’s taken the joy out of this game, and the only way forward for me is to remove myself from football and this cycle that I’ve been in.”

Because of Luck’s severe injuries, the cycle he is referring to is rehab. He has experienced injuries such as a partially torn abdomen, at least one concussion, a torn cartilage in two ribs, a lacerated kidney that left him peeing blood, and a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder.

In March of 2016, the Detroit Lions’ greatest franchise receiver, Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, retired at age 30 after nine seasons with the team.

“I can’t put in what I want to put in, what I used to put in to get the results that I used to get. I can’t put in those same efforts and I’m not going to sell myself short; I’m not going to go out there and not be 100 percent,” Johnson said.

Even though NFL players wear protective gear, it still doesn’t protect them from concussion-like symptoms along with other astringent injuries. Players should think long-term, meaning play in the league for a few years, make millions of dollars, save and invest that money, then retire early to save their mind and body. The NFL is a young man’s game and a very lucrative sport, but is it worth the damage it could do to you internally and externally?