Andrew Luck’s Sudden Retirement From Football

The 29 year old Indianapolis Colts quarterback making $35m/year suddenly retired Saturday. Everyone is shocked, including me, but for a different reason than most.

Over his injury riddled career, the Stanford grad made $100m on the field and lots more off of it. If Luck earns 4% on 150m he’ll have $6m a year to decide how to spend the rest of his life. He should be okay especially since he’s said he is going to make Indianapolis home.

What’s most shocking about his retirement is that it’s not more common. I don’t understand why more elite players who have made $10m+ don’t quit before their brains and bodies begin breaking down.

Scientists know football players are at risk from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease caused by repeated head injuries. These are 25 year olds who have another 50-75 to go. Professional football players keep getting larger and faster. Playing professional football is often compared to getting in a car crash every Sunday.

The Colts owner says Luck is passing up $450m in future salary. So what. What is the value of one’s brain and body?

How much money is enough, $150 million no doubt, but why not $5m? Spend and invest smartly and watch it grow over time. Why aren’t many more players heading for the exits. Why isn’t Chris Borland the model?

Early during Sunday’s training ride, six cycling friends and I buzzed Tumwater High School. Cars lined both sides of the street for half a mile. Pop Warner junior football is alive and well in Tumwater, WA. Which I find perplexing.

It makes perfect sense that parents want their children to play sports, but why choose the one where one’s health is most likely to be compromised. Tradition?

Why choose football when there are innumerable safer options? Case in point. You may have missed it, but Sunday in Atlanta Rory McIlroy made $15m by winning professional golf’s final playoff tournament. Hitting a golf ball, not being hit. Don’t expect him to retire anytime soon.

 

 

Fall Without Football?

Last week I watched Public Television’s Frontline documentary based upon the recently released book “League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions, and The Battle for Truth.”

Because ignorance truly is bliss, the vast majority of football fans will pass on the book and film. And you can be damn sure the NFL suits are working overtime to pressure ESPN and other media outlets to suppress the book’s findings. In this drama, the NFL is Big Tobacco in the 1980s. The book was a story immediately after its release, but since then it’s been the proverbial tree in the forest.

Despite knowing much more about the detrimental long term effects of playing football, I still watched a lot of it last week—a little Washington v Oregon, UCLA v Cal, and Seattle v Tennessee. Yes, I’m part of the problem.

Not that anyone should generalize from me, but I think I could kick my forty-five year old football playing and viewing habit if there were substitutes on television on fall weekends. I haven’t learned to eat lunch on Saturdays without some sporting event on television. We used to get a cable station, Universal Sports, that was made for me. It broadcast major marathons, triathlons, and related endurance events around the world.

If the Chicago Marathon and Ironman Hawaii World Championship were on television last weekend, I would have happily watched them instead of my beloved Bruins (especially since they were taking it to the Golden Bears). At first glance, those appear to be poor substitutes because there’s zero physical contact, but upon closer review, they’re excellent ones because they’re physically demanding in their own way, often equally dramatic, and in the end, tremendously compelling.

When I watch cyclists attack in the Alps during the Tour de France, and then the chaos of the shattered peloton, I get just as excited as when a hard hitting safety lights up an unsuspecting receiver on a crossing route. I get similarly fired up when watching a sprint at the end of a long distance run or open water swim. Last summer, after watching a stage of the Tour marked by a steady stream of attacks and counter-attacks, I told the Good Wife, “It was like watching a heavyweight fight.”

Speaking of which, it’s been decades since I watched a professional fight. Truth be told, I think boxing is barbaric and have zero interest in it. Don’t tell my 20-something male students, but I’m even more repulsed by mixed martial arts.

I won’t be surprised if some fall day in the not too distant future I find other things to care about besides whether UCLA beats Stanford and wins the Pac-12 South. And if I end up thinking about football the way I think about boxing and mixed martial arts.

[Postscript—Here’s a really excellent discussion/debate about the substance of the book and film.]