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Don’t push your Luck: Athletes deserve support when retiring early

By Eduardo Andrade, Managing Editor
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Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts has announced that he is retiring from football, citing health concerns and the mental toll of injuries and rehabilitation. This announcement came as a shock to the NFL and its fans with Luck retiring at the age of 29 after only six seasons in the league.

The decision to retire is not one that comes easily to most athletes. Many, in fact, do not have the luxury of deciding when their careers should end. Freak injuries and the inability to compete at the highest levels usually force people out of the jobs they loved.

However, there is a growing number of NFL players deciding to retire early due to health issues and long term health concerns. This is worrying for the NFL as many of these players are in the prime of their careers and are among the elite in their positions. Coming off of what was statistically one of his best seasons, Luck is the newest member of this group.

Luck made the NFL Pro-Bowl four times in his six year career, making it each year he played a full season, and was often called the face of the Colts franchise. With the average Pro-Bowl player retiring after 11.7 years in the NFL, according to statista.com, Luck is essentially halving his time in the NFL.

Despite the obvious difficulty and heartbreak some of these athletes face when deciding to cut their careers short, many people do not support their decision. As he walked off the field during a Colts preseason game against the Bears, Luck was met with boos from the crowd. He has faced criticism from pundits and fans alike.

Critics of Luck, who retired after years of injury and gruelling rehab limited his playtime and caused intense pain, question Lucks “grit” and call him “soft,” expressing a “play through the pain” mentality as old as sports itself.

This mentality has done untold damage over the years. The stories of people like Frank Gifford, Dave Duerson, and Mike Webster speak for themselves. These players suffered dozens of head injuries, playing through concussions and other injuries for their teams. Now, all they have to show for their “toughness” and “dedication to the sport” is atrophied brain tissue and early graves as a result of CTE directly related to injuries sustained during their playing careers.

Other, less severe cases, also are unfavourable. Yao Ming, Brandon Roy and Bobby Orr all saw nagging injuries which culminated in unceremonious retirement after multiple short, unproductive and painful seasons.

Nobody envies how these careers came to a close. The alternative to Luck willingly stepping away from the sport he loved was to see it slowly do more and more damage to his physical and mental health. At best a few more painful seasons where he repeats the “cycle” of injury and rehab. At worst, severe injuries force him out and leave him debilitated beyond recovery.

That’s why Luck has seen nearly universal support from fellow athletes, those who can relate to what he is experiencing. That’s why Luck made the right decision when he announced his retirement.

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