Maybe Andrew Luck quit because his head is on straight.
The Indianapolis Colts quarterback’s retirement announcement caught everyone by surprise. It also prompted some people who should have known better to start criticizing a young man for trying to make the wisest choices with his life.
I’ve known former NFL players.
Some are fortunate. Even as they advance into middle-age or even old age, they still move with the grace and assurance of the superb athletes they once were. Time might have slowed them a step or two and added a few lines to their faces, but their years on the field didn’t seem to have left permanent marks on them.
Things didn’t go so well for others.
One guy I know is still in his 40s, but he moves with the gimpy stride of a man in his late 80s. Every step seems to cost him something.
Another former NFL player used to work out at the same place I did. He’d break into a sweat climbing a flight of stairs because it hurt so much to drag himself up them. His joints had taken such a pounding that almost everything caused him pain.
I should mention that neither of these guys is asking for sympathy. They played because they loved the game and because they were well paid for doing so. They made their choices and they’re living with consequences of those choices.
But the choices were their choices.
Not the crowd’s choices.
Not the choices of some blowhard on a barstool or in sports talk show sound booth.
But the fact that these former players accept responsibility for the consequences of their career choices shouldn’t blind us to the fact that there were consequences.
Years ago, during my newspaper days, I spent some Sunday afternoons on the sidelines at NFL games.
Being up in the stands or even in a press box distances one from the action. Up close to and at the same level as the play it’s impossible to miss the sheer and incredible violence of an NFL game.
The players are huge, and they move faster than anything that big ought to be able to run. The hits can be horrific, like cars smashing into each other.
In fact, down at field level, an NFL game resembles a demolition derby, only with human bone, muscle and sinew being crunched and mashed rather than automotive metal.
It’s not a surprise that, at every game, several players either limp off or are carried off the field.
It’s also not a surprise that some of them never walk or move right again after being carried off.
I’ve never met Andrew Luck, but he’s always struck me as a thoughtful young man.
He’s gracious and self-deprecating in public. He shares the credit when the team succeeds and shoulders more than his portion of the blame when things don’t go well.
Even after he began to amass wealth on a grand scale, he still maintained a relatively modest lifestyle, driving an old car and even using an out-of-date flip phone for years after he’d hit the big time. He devoted large portions of his time and energy to charity and other good causes.
Luck’s anguish was palpable at the improvised Saturday night press conference announcing his retirement. He’d been booed as word leaked out at the Colts exhibition game that evening.
He said that stung.
Colts owner Jim Irsay said Luck could be leaving as much as $500 million on the table by quitting now.
But it wasn’t the money Luck talked about. He talked about his love for the game and for his teammates.
As always, a thoughtful young man.
But he also said he’d been in pain for much of the past four years and that he had to think about what he wanted his life to be like after his football days were over.
To all but the most boneheaded, it was clear he was making a tough choice.
Andrew Luck is walking away from a game he loves while he still is certain he will be able to walk.
That’s his right and his choice, a choice everyone ought to respect.