As many of my readers probably know by now, I’m a pretty avid football fan. Having lived in Philly for nearly 30 years I can’t help but cheer for my Eagles. And yes, as I’ve mentioned in previous columns, I still follow the Buffalo Bills. As for other teams around the league, well, I can enjoy watching some of them on occasion though there are a few teams that I just hate (here’s looking at you, New England). And then there are those teams that I’ve never really given much thought to – like the Indianapolis Colts. That is, until about a week ago.
As even those who don’t care all that much about the NFL must have heard by now the Colts starting quarterback, 29-year old Andrew Luck, announced his decision to retire a few days back, just as the new season was about to begin. In and of itself this really shouldn’t be huge news; players drop in and drop out all the time across the sporting world and rarely, if ever, is much made of it all. And yet, in this case at least, all hell seems to have broken loose across football fandom.
In the brief period since Luck made his announcement, fans have expressed outrage – and I do mean outrage – at his decision. He was booed off the field following a preseason game against the Chicago Bears soon after word of his decision began to spread. Sports radio is on fire with anguish and fury. Meantime fans have been shown on social media burning his jersey. The anger – dare I say hate? – has been palpable.
And why? The stated reasons given across the sports world are not all that surprising. Luck is so young. He only entered the League in 2012. He has so many possible years of football left in him. Look around the NFL. Quarterback Tom Brady, kicker Adam Vinatieri and others are in their 40s and are still playing the game! And yet Luck (who turns 30 next week) is already retiring?! The mind boggles.
But this, of course, does not explain the vitriol with which so many fans are receiving this news. So what does? Why are so many bothered by this decision, a decision which, truth be told, isn’t really about them?
To answer, I think we need to step back and look at some of the details here. Luck’s career has been an up-and-down affair. On the one hand, he is (was) one of the NFL’s premier quarterbacks. Before he retired, Luck earned the 12th highest salary in the league; in February he signed a $140 million contract and was, it seemed, on track to continue to soar upwards with an estimated net worth of somewhere around $100 million. Luck set numerous team records while playing for the Colts. During his brief career he led his team to the playoffs four times and went to four Pro Bowls.
And yet, Luck has also had his struggles. Since 2012, he has suffered several injuries that have wracked his body inside and out. And in this regard, he is certainly no different than every other player who has played this, one of the most physical, violent sports to continue to exist in the modern era.
But, I would contend, that’s exactly what makes Andrew Luck a different breed and, as such, the present target of so much anger and angst. Because Luck is saying something with his retirement that few of us would probably be able to say were we ever in his shoes. In effect, he is telling the world “yes, I am one fortunate guy. I make millions playing a kid’s game. But you know what? There are more important things in life. And believe it or not, I have the strength to realize this, and to walk away before it all crumbles, like a castle of sand, beneath my feet.”
To be honest, the retirement of Andrew Luck shouldn’t be newsworthy. Here is a guy who married last March, who will soon be a new dad, and who, after taking stock, has decided that life is too short to live it in pain (literal or otherwise). He is a man who, to my mind at least, has his priorities straight.
Rather, the reaction to Luck’s retirement and the kerfuffle it has created says far more about who we Americans are today than it does about the decision of this one player. It reveals that yet again, we think of only ourselves rather than considering what is best for others. How many guys out there who play Fantasy Football are saying “Luck was my QB!” (Actually he really was my QB for a number of years and I did well with him at my Fantasy helm). “Now what do I do? How dare he let me down!?”
For my part, I salute men like Andrew Luck for putting his health, his wife and his family first. I hope that in the coming years he is able to heal, both body and soul. And if by chance he ever does consider coming out of retirement, my bet is that he will most certainly remember how those fickle “fans” in Indy treated him when, on that cool Saturday night in August, he stood before them, steeled himself up, and courageously said, “I am going to retire. This is not an easy decision. It’s the hardest decision of my life. But it is the right decision for me.”
Steven C Dinero, Ph.D., is Executive Director of the Carbon County Museum.