When Andrew Luck announced to the world on Aug. 24 that he would be retiring from the NFL, the football world was stunned.
As he took to the stage to deliver an emotional press conference where he talked about his retirement, it was hard not to feel for the former Indianapolis Colts superstar.
“I’m in pain, I’m still in pain. It’s been four years of this pain, rehab cycle,” Luck said in his press conference.
He elaborated on how his injuries have influenced his decision to retire from the NFL.
“I’ve been stuck in this process. I haven’t been able to live the life I want to live. 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,” Luck said.
Luck had spent almost the entirety of his career either injured or battling back from injuries.
In September of 2015, it was a sprained shoulder.
In November of 2015, it was a lacerated kidney and a torn abdominal muscle.
In January 2016, it was torn cartilage in his ribs.
In November of 2016, it was a concussion.
In January of 2017, it was shoulder surgery.
In March of 2019, it was a calf strain.
This doesn’t include the physical toll that being sacked 174 times takes on your body, or the countless number of times he’s been hit during his career.
The 29-year-old Stanford University graduate was walking away from millions and millions of dollars in the prime of his career with three years left on a contract that was poised to pay him $58.1 million over that span.
That figure, which is more than many of us will ever make in our lifetime, wasn’t enough to keep the bruised and battered Luck in the league.
Luck isn’t the first athlete to retire in his prime due to injuries.
Just last year, former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski hung up his cleats after a nine-year career, revealing that at one point he’d had a “centimeter of liquid” in his head from injuries, along with a quad injury that required a liter of blood to be drained from his leg.
In 2015, former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis retired, citing “unbearable pain” in his feet.
That same year, Chris Borland, another 49ers linebacker, retired from the league after just one season due to his concerns about concussions.
These men had given their lives to football, had reached the top of the mountain, and then walked away when they realized that the game was beginning to take from them more than it was giving back to them, giving up fame and fortune in the process.
Why do I reference all these athletes? Because as a new generation begins to take the field, athletes, coaches and fans are more well informed and more cognizant of the dangers of the sport.
The “old school” style of playing through any pain, “walking it off” and glorifying huge hits has begun to fade away as the pain that these players go through to play on Sundays has become more and more well documented. This has been one of the main reasons why participation in the sport at the high school level has dropped nearly 10 percent since 2008.
Admittedly, some of that dip is likely due to specialization of athletes in one sport as travel leagues and yearlong programs become a more popular option for talented youths, but there is an absolute correlation between more light being shone on the effects of football and the decline in the number of those who play it.
Luck’s retirement could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for many parents around the country who have gone back and forth on whether they will allow their children, or future children, to play the game.
As they see someone who plays at the highest level — who is considered to be one of the elite players in the league — hang it up because he just couldn’t deal with the pain anymore, and as they continue to read up on the countless stories of former players continuing to struggle in their day-to-day lives decades removed from their playing days, it will instill fear and likely will prevent many from having the chance to put on a helmet and shoulder pads.
But it doesn’t have to.
As someone who was forced to walk away from