"The only way I see out is to no longer play football."
August 27, 2019 10:15 AM   Subscribe

Andrew Luck is a 29-year-old multimillionaire who recently decided not to continue to punish his body and his brain (transcript) for the entertainment of the 28th largest U.S. media market. Those who've faced Andrew Luck's choice know why he made it.
posted by Etrigan (78 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
It was absolutely revolting to see Colts fans booing Luck as he left the field this weekend.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:19 AM on August 27 [55 favorites]


It's interesting (and kinda disturbing) to also read how the league and media are spinning the Ryan Shazier story as one of hope, rather than as another dramatic cautionary tale about the sport's brutality.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:33 AM on August 27 [16 favorites]


Worse yet, the Access Goon - Schefter was it? - ratting him out mid-game before he could tell his teammates. Maybe there's more to it but it seems like such a scumbag move. Anyway, here's to him having a great life and handling the MH issues he's previously hinted at.

Also, surely a coincidence that a raft of "Gronk not ruling out return" stories have just been pushed to my phone, right?
posted by ominous_paws at 10:33 AM on August 27 [2 favorites]


I've never been prouder of a person I could just barely have been able to pick out of a lineup a week ago than I am of Andrew Luck for making that decision for himself. It's all fine and good to talk about the league needing to change if it's going to start actually taking care of its players, but it's going to take individual actions by Big Stars to get people to change the very entrenched mindset. And part of that is exposing the assholes like the Bad Colts Fans and the league officials and sports talk jagoffs who talk about "toughness" when the rest of us are worried about "potential player organ failure" and "loyalty" to a billion-dollar organization that asks people to sacrifice their brains.

(I don't think it's going to happen anytime soon, and I'll probably not be able to watch football like I used to, but it's a step in the right direction.)

What Andrew Luck Means by Drew Magary

That’s why scouts ask players all kinds of deranged shit at the combine, like If you were a jellybean, what flavor of jellybean would you be? or If you could murder a man and get away with it, wouldn’t you? All the 40 times and vertical jumps get their usual undue amount of attention. But what scouts REALLY want to learn about prospects when they come to the combine in Indianapolis—how fitting a locale at the moment—is, Are you too smart and rational to keep playing this game?

posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:35 AM on August 27 [59 favorites]


It's interesting (and kinda disturbing) to also read how the league and media are spinning the Ryan Shazier story as one of hope, rather than as another dramatic cautionary tale about the sport's brutality.

He's still on the Steeler's roster as physically unable to perform(or PuP), second year in a row.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:45 AM on August 27


Good for him. I hope more players make the same choice to prioritize their health until the sport reforms to prohibit the kind of brutal tackles that are destroying players' lives. No one's brain should be sacrificed at the altar of Mammon like this.
posted by biogeo at 10:48 AM on August 27 [12 favorites]


What I can't believe is that there's only one guy doing this and everyone is making a big deal out of it. They should be walking out en masse. You only get one life and one brain. Reminds me of Frances McDormand's great speech from Fargo:
So, that was Mrs. Lundegaard on the floor in there. And I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper. And those three people in Brainerd. And for what? For a little bit of money? There's more to life than a little money, you know. Don'tcha know that? And here ya are, and it's a beautiful day. Well. I just don't understand it.
posted by bleep at 10:51 AM on August 27 [49 favorites]


The one thing they're not doing is retiring in waves. Each player seems to be making their own decisions, on their own time frame.
posted by ZeusHumms at 11:01 AM on August 27


NFL Players Are Evolving. Fans Aren’t Keeping Up. (Jemele Hill, The Atlantic)
The Colts quarterback’s sudden retirement is a harbinger. Fame, fortune, and team spirit are no longer enough to make star players endure crippling injuries.
[former New England tight end] Martellus Bennett Issues Reality Check To Fans In Twitter Thread About Andrew Luck
"At some point you gotta start thinking about being a fully functioning human for your family. They deserve a dad who hasn’t lost his mind to concussions. Our wives deserve not having to be our nurse for the rest of our lives. They deserve a fully functioning human in their lives"
Many other players are speaking out as well, taking Luck's side.
posted by ZeusHumms at 11:05 AM on August 27 [59 favorites]


My Husband Is Dying Every Day
Ron Fellows played cornerback for the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Raiders from 1981–1988. He intercepted 19 passes and scored three touchdowns, including two on interception returns. Now 61 years old and living in Sacramento, Calif., Fellows suffers from Alzheimer’s, and his cognition is gradually declining. What follows is a description of life from the perspective of Debra Fellows, Ron’s wife since 2002, as told to Dom Cosentino.
posted by primalux at 11:10 AM on August 27 [20 favorites]


His body, his career, his life, his choice. Even if his career didn’t depend on battering and breaking his body it would be his choice. There should be a reverse Don Draper “that’s what the money is for” meme for this situation. He doesn’t owe any of us strangers a damn thing.
posted by sallybrown at 11:11 AM on August 27 [14 favorites]


It was absolutely revolting to see Colts fans booing Luck as he left the field this weekend.

Perhaps his response should have been to spread his arms: “Are you not entertained?!? Are you not entertained?!?”
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:12 AM on August 27 [25 favorites]


His body, his career, his life, his choice

Surprising no one, a lot of Americans don't believe in body autonomy. From slavery to abortion to gender identity, other people's bodies aren't theirs to control.

If you like football, that's fine, I don't want to dump on anyone, but football is a garbage sport that generates way too many injuries and basically kills players. Luck is cashing in his chips and leaving the casino. Smart move.
posted by GuyZero at 11:20 AM on August 27 [49 favorites]


@thecheckdown: The nicest guy the game has ever seen. 💯

I'd like to see each and every one of the sports talk radio nitwits complaining about Luck's decision take those hits and then cheer their opponent on afterwards. I love that he's unapologetic about leaving the game behind, but it does make me wonder how many other guys playing who don't have the same post-football prospects ahead of them want to do the same but are afraid to.

Stuff like this has basically relegated my football consumption from watching every Eagles game and most nationally televised games to just watching when it's on at a bar or a friend's house. I hope a player of Luck's caliber walking away sends a message to the league, but I fear it'll be business as usual once the season begins.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:21 AM on August 27 [10 favorites]


Also, nearly $100M in 7 years? Holy shit.
posted by GuyZero at 11:21 AM on August 27


From a CBS Sports article:

September 2015: Sprained shoulder
November 2015: Lacerated kidney, partially torn abdominal muscle
January 2016: Reports of torn cartilage
November 2016: Concussion
January 2017: Shoulder surgery
November 2017: Placed on IR, shut down for season
August 2018: Finally returns to action
March 2019: Calf strain


I got out of the hospital at the end of April after suffering kidney failure due to the treatment for another condition in the ICU. It is now near the end of August, and my kidneys are still not entirely back to normal. I did not have a laceration, I can't imagine how difficult that injury alone was to deal with. It sounds like he won't ever have full range of motion on the arm he had shoulder surgery for.

Look at that list and come back to me about being soft. Good for him, I'm glad he retired and can use his Stanford education for something else (with enough capital to sustain whatever it is he wants to do). He owes the NFL nothing.

I will miss his Twitter dispatches.
posted by Chuffy at 11:25 AM on August 27 [28 favorites]


There is a dialogue over CTE and concussions. I wonder how many players get hooked on opioids over their career, and following retirement...another issue that is probably buried in the big-money hush hush league.
posted by Chuffy at 11:40 AM on August 27 [1 favorite]


This article is really interesting. The author theorizes that Andrew Luck's injury history is partly due to mismanagement by former Colts GM Ryan Grigson. The claim is that Grigson chronically underinvested in his offensive line, meaning that Luck wound up taking more hits than any other NFL player over a four-year period.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:09 PM on August 27 [26 favorites]


[A few comments deleted. If your main feeling is a very general "nobody should pay attention to football" or "people who follow football are bad", please just skip this thread. It's fine to comment critically if you're actually interested in football/etc and/or the actual particulars of what's going on in this specific story.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:14 PM on August 27 [15 favorites]


I was flipping around the radio dial in the car a few days ago and hit on some sports talk idiot going on about "Well if his injuries are really as bad as he says ..." as if he were lying about it. I don't understand that attitude at all.
posted by octothorpe at 12:17 PM on August 27 [5 favorites]


Good on Luck for retiring - would have been great to see what he could do, but I'm not the one taking a beating.

And yes, Grigson (and Isray by extension) are absolutely a major factor in his injury history.
posted by drewbage1847 at 12:18 PM on August 27 [2 favorites]


I've read some accounts of this where Luck apparently made a promise to himself during his previous rehab (which lasted something like 18 months) that he wouldn't put himself through that process again. I wonder if it was purely the physical pain/frustration of rehab, or maybe enduring the endless childish wining of football fans who go into fits of rage when their favorite team's players don't return from injury quickly enough to suit them. That's even assuming he doesn't feel a toxic pressure from management/coaching staff, for whom his long-term absence means a serious reduction in employment prospects. You'd have to have incredible discipline to live in that world but insulate yourself from all that garbage.

My childhood team, the Washington Horribles, is going through a somewhat similar process with Alex Smith, a pretty good quarterback currently in his second year of a $94 million contract ($55 million guaranteed), who suffered a devastating leg injury last season that looks like it will definitely prevent him from playing this year, or maybe ever. Luckily, it looks like his leg will be pretty much okay for normal human activities, but may never be strong enough to play football again. Hopefully, he's mentally made up his mind to retire, but will just continue to rehab with the team and collect gigantic paychecks for another couple of years.
posted by skewed at 12:21 PM on August 27 [7 favorites]


I was flipping around the radio dial in the car a few days ago and hit on some sports talk idiot going on about "Well if his injuries are really as bad as he says ..." as if he were lying about it. I don't understand that attitude at all.

It's equal parts warrior myth and outrage driven talk show ratings.
posted by ZeusHumms at 12:21 PM on August 27 [5 favorites]


Seriously, good for Luck. Hopefully a harbinger, indeed.

Not that things were ever simple, but it's clear that there's so much money and so little to do for people that so many things are going the way of casino capitalism: Soccer Player Daniel Sturridge Found Guilty In Betting Scandal

(This is the tip of a much larger iceberg...employees always get the stick first)

Also, note that the Raiders moving to Las Vegas is part of a much larger clear step-over-line-in-sand re the NFL's future revenue growth being directly tied to gambling.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 12:32 PM on August 27


When is the NFL players union going to get its shit together? The sport is not sustainable as it stands, and the owners won't be the ones to initiate the necessary changes. There are so many NFL players who give way more than they get.
posted by pilot pirx at 12:34 PM on August 27 [3 favorites]


Seeing more NFL players leave the league would be great. I'm hoping this spurs greater collective action, and hastens the end of the NFL. I say that as a once very dedicated fan.
posted by codacorolla at 12:35 PM on August 27 [7 favorites]


The worst part is that this probably means the end of the @CaptAndrewLuck Twitter account.

I guess there just wasn’t enough Squirrel Oil.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 12:39 PM on August 27 [3 favorites]


> The worst part is that this probably means the end of the @CaptAndrewLuck Twitter account.

Slyly linked in the FPP... :)
posted by tonycpsu at 12:42 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


Previously, on Metafilter:
The list of strengths on John Urschel’s NFL scouting report leads off with: “Highly intelligent—will be successful with or without football.”

He laughs when I read it to him. “That’s a good thing to say for me in life, it’s not a good thing you want on your scouting report.”
Urschel quit football two days after a particularly damning CTE study on brain trauma in football came out.
posted by joyceanmachine at 12:44 PM on August 27 [10 favorites]


It was absolutely revolting to see Colts fans booing Luck as he left the field this weekend.

Par for the course, though. Fuck entitled fans, no matter the genre, no matter the venue.
Enjoy the retirement, Mr. Luck.
posted by ocschwar at 12:47 PM on August 27 [2 favorites]


And when the game ended, I went down to the locker room and watched Priest Holmes. It was like agony radiated off him, like steam.


Ignore the Pain by Joe Posnanski
posted by TedW at 12:58 PM on August 27 [9 favorites]


This week's "Hang Up And Listen" podcast has a couple of ex-NFL players on to talk about this, and everyone agrees it was Luck's decision to make....and the correct one, too.

One of the guests is Jake Plummer and the other is Nate Jackson, who wrote a book called Slow Getting Up about how badly NFL players' bodies are mangled in the week-to-week meat-grinder of professional football. It was a horrifying read, and made me 100% sure that I didn't want my sons playing a single down of youth football. (Also, it was very funny, and a good companion to "A Few Seconds of Panic" by HUAL regular Stefan Fatsis.)
posted by wenestvedt at 1:09 PM on August 27 [5 favorites]


It was absolutely revolting to see Colts fans booing Luck as he left the field this weekend.

I live in Indy. Colts fans are the worst. Avoid with extremely extreme prejudice.

Luck did the right thing. I wish him well (which means, of course, get the hell outta Indiana)
posted by Thorzdad at 1:10 PM on August 27 [2 favorites]


When is the NFL players union going to get its shit together?

Aren't they an NFL subsidiary?
posted by Thorzdad at 1:12 PM on August 27


This story also taught me that Troy Aikman is more interesting on Twitter than he is on television (yes, also indirectly linked on the FPP, REPETITION IS HOW YOU WIN IN THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE.)
posted by Huffy Puffy at 1:21 PM on August 27 [5 favorites]


Nick Buoniconti died three weeks ago. He played 14 seasons as a linebacker back in the 60s-70s, 2 Super Bowls with the Dolphins, HoF. You might remember this commercial for Miller Lite. What I remember was seeing him on that PBS Frontline program dealing with CTE. There was a video clip of him trying to put on a tshirt. He just picked it up, poked at it and turned it over and over, trying to figure it out. Before he died, he announced he was donating his brain to CTE research.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 1:28 PM on August 27 [21 favorites]


Sports fans tend to see high salaries as disconnecting star athletes from normal human emotions. "You've made $100MM and cam make tens more? Then get in the field and entertain me until your brain turns to tapioca!" How could they worry about their health, when there is so much money?

Similarly, when a player's performance slips badly but they still draw a high salary, some fans will claim the player is laughing all the way to the bank. Chris Davis of the Orioles worked his entire life to become a Major League Baseball player. And now, upon becoming truly terrible the last few years, we are to believe he might find this all terrifically hilarious? Somehow, an intensly competitive and successful person who goes from being a star to the worst regular player in the game will just shrug off the booing, ignore the total dissipation of the talents that made his life have meaning because he gets some nice money?

It's very weird to me.

Yes, yes, yes, of course I would like to make $23MM a year. But I'm betting that if you get that money through talent and hard work only to have your talent to fail and your hard work be unable to redeem you, it feels like a devil's bargain, not a terrific scam.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:31 PM on August 27 [22 favorites]


"It's interesting (and kinda disturbing) to also read how the league and media are spinning the Ryan Shazier story as one of hope, rather than as another dramatic cautionary tale about the sport's brutality."

Sorry if this is a threadjack, but the Ryan Shazier thing hits me hard. He and I lived in the same neighborhood when he was at OSU. We shopped at the same grocery store, our families ate dinner in adjacent tables at a restaurant, etc.

Anyway, I live in New Hampshire now, and just after his injury, I was listening to the radio while the Steelers were playing the Pats. The Pats' radio guys were talking about the importance of the game, and one of them said "it must be killing Shazier not to be able to play in this game!" I thought to myself, "yeah, and the whole never walking again thing must be tough, too". But priorities.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:02 PM on August 27 [11 favorites]


Yes, yes, yes, of course I would like to make $23MM a year. But I'm betting that if you get that money through talent and hard work only to have your talent to fail and your hard work be unable to redeem you, it feels like a devil's bargain, not a terrific scam.

This is not to mention the thousands of young men who damage their bodies irreparably but never make a dime from football. Luck has probably been playing since at least junior high; how many of his classmates from there through high-school and into university ever made any money from the sport? Chances are, very few.
posted by octothorpe at 2:08 PM on August 27 [22 favorites]


Well, I'm a 56 yo indoor soccer goalkeeper. I'm hurt all the time. ACL torn, fingers trashed, probably a few concussions. And I have to pay to play. But yet I do...

But, not likely the same level of trauma as the NFL. But, still getting to keep competing is something. But, I'm glad tackle football wasn't my passion.

It does completely screw the Colts though...
posted by Windopaene at 2:14 PM on August 27


one thing that struck me about Luck's account is talking about his pregnant wife taking care of him etc., here is a YOUNG man with a pregnant wife, he has a long life with his family to look forward to and he wants to be alive and healthy and sound to be there and with his wife and kid(s). this is the best reason to choose health over (more) money, is it not? to choose family over the brash demands of entitled fans who don't even care about your well being?
posted by supermedusa at 2:23 PM on August 27 [10 favorites]


Best wishes to Luck for leaving with clean hands and composure—the people bitching about him and booing are completely in the wrong. He doesn't owe them anything.

Hopefully this is one of the first pebbles in the avalanche of people leaving the sport.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 2:23 PM on August 27 [2 favorites]


Thoreau said “The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”

Anyone who works for a living is essentially trading some portion of their finite life for money...and for most that's the whole of the transaction. But for people like Andrew Luck they're not just selling some immediate and known part of their life, but also some future - and totally unknown - amount of life. It's a crap shoot.

Some get tens of millions a year in exchange for a few years of their twenties and that's a pretty good deal. Many argue that they're grossly overpaid. But what about the ones who are unknowingly giving up years or decades of their useful future life for that money? Is it still a good deal? Are they still overpaid?
posted by rocket88 at 2:25 PM on August 27 [16 favorites]


What's going to happen to American football is that all the upper and upper-middle-class parents are going to start pulling little Johnny out of the 6th and 7th grade football team, meaning Johnny won't be playing much in high school, meaning he won't get scouted for college, meaning he won't become a pro. It's ok, little Johnny can probably afford to go to college anyway on a regular scholarship or with loans or with Mom and Dad's bank account, and he'll become an accountant or a doctor or a Whole Foods manager who joins a weekend league.

The kids who will continue playing football, though, are the ones who don't have access to other options, either because football provides structured after-school care that is not a gang, or because football scholarships are a means to college for a lot of lower-income families. That's just going to magnify the gladiatorial nature of the sport. I also worry that CTE, like most forms of dementia, is predicated on cognitive reserve, and the kids who are already starting from a place of disadvantage are going to wind up at highest risk because they took what they/their parents thought was the best option open to them.

(We already see this in military service, for instance, where enlisted service members are more likely to come from lower-income backgrounds and less likely than the general population to complete higher education. The difference is that the 20-year-old brain of a survivor of an IED attack is a good deal more stable than the 20-year-old brain of a college football player who has already endured one concussion and multiple sub-concussive hits.)
posted by basalganglia at 4:06 PM on August 27 [10 favorites]


One more personal anecdote:

In the late 80's, I worked at a health club where the Raiders trained. One weekend, I crashed my mountain bike on a stupid jump that I had no business trying to make, and fractured my hip. The bruise on my leg extended from the top of my hip to just above my knee, on the outside of my leg. It was solid black-and-purple.

I was limping and one of the Raiders players asked me what was wrong, and I said I had a nasty bruise on my leg, which I showed him (I was wearing shorts, so it was easy to demonstrate. He laughed, and said, "That's not a bruise, man. You should see us on Monday morning, half the team is sitting in the ice machine...it's like going through a bunch of car crashes every Sunday."

I'll never forget that conversation. It was before Thursday night games. Crazy.
posted by Chuffy at 4:39 PM on August 27 [11 favorites]



The kids who will continue playing football, though, are the ones who don't have access to other options, either because football provides structured after-school care that is not a gang, or because football scholarships are a means to college for a lot of lower-income families.


Whitney Young High School, in Chicago, had to cancel an entire season because not enough kids signed up for the football team.

(Previously discussed on The Blue).

It's the low-income high-test-score magnet school for the city. Change is afoot, y'all, and our modern day Thracians are not so eager to sign up as gladiators.
posted by ocschwar at 4:39 PM on August 27 [7 favorites]


white cloud michigan will have no senior high school football team either - not enough kids signed up - they're hoping the junior varsity team might be able in a year or two

i was going to try out for jr high school football in 7th grade and broke my arm instead

i was lucky
posted by pyramid termite at 4:45 PM on August 27 [2 favorites]


I also see this as being part of a larger trend in top level professional sports where athletes have made enough money before their careers are over that they are no longer sufficiently compelled to do their things against their will merely for money.

Kawhi Leonard chose his freedom to go home and be near his family over something like 40 million more to stay in Toronto. Several other NBA players have recently chosen to take smaller contracts + freedom to choose their team versus being locked in with their current teams.

If Luck was smart and careful he likely has enough money that he doesn't need to play football anymore.

A lot of top athletes are reaching this point far earlier in their careers and have more knowledge about the extents of the trade-offs so maybe the calculus is changing.
posted by srboisvert at 5:11 PM on August 27 [3 favorites]


Op-Ed: Football is America’s war game, Los Angeles Times, Mark Edmundson, August 23, 2014:
...I think football is a deeply American game, that it reflects our national identity and national values and that its export is a dubious proposition. The game is played in Canada, to be sure. But I think it’s possible that Canadians are absorbed in the game roughly to the extent that they are absorbed in the values and worldview of their neighbor to the south.

“Baseball is what we were,” wrote Mary McGrory, longtime Washington Post columnist. “Football is what we have become.”

What exactly have we become that makes football the American game?

The best answers are sometimes the simplest. Football is a warlike game and we are now a warlike nation. Our love for football is a love, however self-aware, of ourselves as a fighting and (we hope) victorious people.

...

Football is urban, tough and based to a large degree on the capacity to overwhelm the other team with sheer force. Football is a tank attack, a sky-borne assault, a charge into the trenches for hand-to-hand fighting. Football is following orders and sticking to the strategy; it’s about acting as a unit and taking hits for the group. Football is generals (coaches) and captains (quarterbacks) and the enlisted guys who play on the line.

Football is about destruction. Sure, you win by getting more points than the other team, but to get more points, you generally have to slam the life out of your opponents. You try to do away with their skill players — by violence. Knock out the first-string quarterback and chances are you will win.
But winning is not enough for true warriors: their enemy of the week must also lose.
posted by cenoxo at 5:49 PM on August 27 [5 favorites]


How many media outlets went with a headline like Colts' Luck runs out?
posted by davejay at 8:18 PM on August 27 [2 favorites]


Joe Posnanski @ Joe Blogs -- Ignore The Pain
The best I've read on Luck's decision tonight (and I've read a lot on this tonight)
But I haven’t gotten to the part about why I will never forget the game.

As you can see, I wrote about his pain. I wrote about the cost. There didn’t seem to be anything else to write. Priest Holmes gave up a little bit of his life on that random Sunday just so the Kansas City Chiefs could beat the Buffalo Bills in a game that didn’t really matter. It seemed the only story to write.

The next morning, I got emails. I always got emails on Mondays after Chiefs games, but these were different. This is why I will never forget the game.

The people behind the emails wanted me to shut the hell up about Priest Holmes’ pain.

I couldn’t believe it at first. I mean, sure, you can and will get random emails from people saying crazy things. But these just kept coming, a dozen of them, then a few more, and they had the same rhythm, the same vibe, often the same words.

They didn’t want to hear that Priest Holmes was hurting.

They were sure that Priest Holmes wasn’t REALLY hurting.

They wanted me to know that Priest Holmes got paid a lot of money to play football.

They raged at me that I had exaggerated Holmes’ pain to sell papers (?).

There was a desperation to those emails, something I couldn’t quite understand. In the end it was a small number of people, but I still read each note with wide-eyed astonishment; I had always come to associate Kansas City with humanity, and I still do. But these were angry people. And why were they angry? They had woken up on a Monday morning excited to read about the Chiefs’ victory over the Buffalo Bills and instead found themselves reading about how Priest Holmes had given up days, weeks, months, perhaps years of his life for the victory.

They didn’t want to read that.

They didn’t want to believe that.

They didn’t like it one bit.

I think about this now because on Saturday, Andrew Luck — who in the last few years has sprained his shoulder, torn cartilage in his rib, suffered at least one concussion, torn his labrum, torn his abdomen, strained his calf, wrecked his ankle and lacerated his kidney — announced that he is walking away from football.

posted by dancestoblue at 9:39 PM on August 27 [20 favorites]


I have admired Colin Kaepernick from the instant he began doing what he is doing now.

I'd never heard his name before he took to his knee, as football is not a piece of my life at all. But I've read about him considerable in the months/years since he took his position, and I hope he never, ever steps back onto the football field, because every season off of those fields is a richer life for him and those he loves and those who love him.
posted by dancestoblue at 10:15 PM on August 27 [10 favorites]


"The only way to win is not to play"

Amen to that.

Whilst I have no interest in the sport per se I've kept up with the news of the evolving role of the sports world's rockstars as a social phenomena. Do fans speak up with the same level of entitlement over a player's body if the ethnic background is different from their own?
posted by Mrs Potato at 3:43 AM on August 28


I think that most NFL fans also don't understand this:

To get to the upper 1% echelon of being drafted to play in the NFL, you have to devote ~95% of your life, beginning at 10-11 years of age, to FOOTBALL ONLY. You don't become as good as Luck is/was without giving up just about everything of your life, starting in middle school.

Maybe he was just ready to devote his existence to something other than football....which he had done for the last 20 years.
posted by kuanes at 4:38 AM on August 28 [8 favorites]


I think they understand it well enough. Football fans often have kids or were kids involved in football or are familiar enough with how high school and grade school footbal works. It seems to me just to be the usual issue of fan entitlement, where some people who are really into some thing don't want anyone else to question it and hint that maybe there's something wrong with that thing they like that deserves attention. A lot of people feel their enjoyment is beyond reproach and questioning it is sour grapes and trying to make them feel bad.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:53 AM on August 28 [9 favorites]


Nick Buoniconti died three weeks ago. He played 14 seasons as a linebacker back in the 60s-70s, 2 Super Bowls with the Dolphins, HoF. What I remember was seeing him on that PBS Frontline program dealing with CTE. There was a video clip of him trying to put on a tshirt. He just picked it up, poked at it and turned it over and over, trying to figure it out. Before he died, he announced he was donating his brain to CTE research.
HBO showed a documentary about him (The Many Lives of Nick Buoniconti) this year. It was haunting how diminished he was due to injury.
posted by ZeusHumms at 6:38 AM on August 28


"You don't become as good as Luck is/was without giving up just about everything of your life, starting in middle school"

While your overall point is well taken, it should be noted that Andrew Luck is one of the NFL players most famous for doing non-football things. He majored in architecture at Stanford, he reads historical fiction, he is an avid Settlers of Catan player, he loves watching European soccer, etc. He is one of the few who don't commit 100%.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:45 AM on August 28 [7 favorites]


Do fans speak up with the same level of entitlement over a player's body if the ethnic background is different from their own?

It's worse. Studies have shown a correlation between racial animosity and opposition to treating college players fairly, and then there's the entire Colin Kaepernick fiasco.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:51 AM on August 28 [9 favorites]


I think too that you can't emphasize enough how tied in football is to certain ideals of masculinity. Team sports and most particularly football, for many, are all about complete obedience to authority, sacrifice of oneself for the good of the team with disregard for personal feeling being held as proof of merit. The "warrior" cult that surrounds football is only one step removed from that around being a soldier for many, and can often take on the same sense of there being almost a patriotic duty involved. Stories like that of Ronnie Lott, who famously chose to have part of his pinkie amputated rather than undergo surgery on it since surgery might cause him to miss some games while he healed, become legend for showing that give it all for the team attitude.

This is just another part of the dark side of the patriarchy, where men's bodies are disposable in the service of maintaining power for "their team" and "winning" as everything. The fandom and cult-like side of it are all the more intense for how much football relies on those values as part of the lore around the game.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:18 AM on August 28 [9 favorites]


Andrew Luck is one of the NFL players most famous for doing non-football things. ... He is one of the few who don't commit 100%.

It should also be noted that Andrew is the son of Oliver Luck, a former NFL quarterback and executive who is currently CEO and Commissioner of the XFL. Andrew Luck has spent as much time learning about football accidentally as any of us has spent in our professional education.
posted by Etrigan at 7:29 AM on August 28 [5 favorites]


Maybe football is going to go the route of boxing.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:04 AM on August 28 [4 favorites]


Maybe football is going to go the route of boxing.

Drew Magary (mentioned above) suggested this in a column from 2017 that I spent too long tracking back down: The Churn. It's mostly a personal essay about what playing college football was like, but then it gets into declining NFL viewership:

Fewer people are watching the NFL now. Whether it’s because of cord-cutting, or disgust with head injuries, or political reasons, or endlessly drawn-out replays and suspension hearings, or just general dissatisfaction with the televised product, they are tuning out [...] And yet, I remain.

Being an NFL fan, at this point, is an exhausting experience. I mean, it’s only September and I already feel like this league has aged me by a decade with all its horseshit. I used to sneer derisively at people who wrung their hands over headshots, but they were right to be horrified and I was wrong. It is a cruel fact that football does more damage to you the better you are at it. Thus, I have definitely sat around during a standard Week 6 penalty-flag fest and wondered why the fuck I’m bothering to watch this shit…why I’m gonna end up as one of last holdout fans to loyally consume a flawed, corrupt, violent, and shrinking sport (just as boxing fans do now).

posted by showbiz_liz at 12:52 PM on August 28 [6 favorites]


Posnanski: I think about this now because on Saturday, Andrew Luck — who in the last few years has sprained his shoulder, torn cartilage in his rib, suffered at least one concussion, torn his labrum, torn his abdomen, strained his calf, wrecked his ankle and lacerated his kidney — announced that he is walking away from football.

He's walking away while he still can, before he has to be wheeled away or carried away.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:59 PM on August 28


"Maybe football is going to go the route of boxing"

Maybe, but boxing is back and more violent than ever in the form of MMA. That makes me think that maybe the decline in boxing's popularity wasn't due to public disgust with the inherent violence, but just lousy promotion. And maybe there wasn't even a real decline in popularity. After all, Mike Tyson was an international celebrity as an active fighter into the late 90s, and title fights were still pretty big events (Tupac was shot after a Tyson fight, for example). It was really just after the Tyson/Holyfield generation, when there wasn't a star heavyweight to lead the way, that boxing dipped for a few years, and then UFC showed up to take its place. We really only went 15 years or so without fighting being a major public topic.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:01 PM on August 28 [3 favorites]


"the son of Oliver Luck, a former NFL quarterback"

This is kind of old news at this point, but it never ceases to fascinate me. Oliver Luck was mostly a career backup, and one of the QBs he backed up was Archie Manning, the father of Peyton Manning, who was, of course, the previous longtime starting QB for the Colts before Andrew Luck. The QB before Manning was Jim Harbaugh, who was Andrew Luck's head coach in college.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:04 PM on August 28 [5 favorites]


Football fans often have kids or were kids involved in football or are familiar enough with how high school and grade school footbal works.
and...
But what about the ones who are unknowingly giving up years or decades of their useful future life for that money? Is it still a good deal?

Maybe the entitled fans are so angry about players retiring while they're healthy because it's a rejection of what those fans value, and what they realize is 99.99% likely that they've squandered their sons' lives & health & futures on.

That's just plain old shame right there, and guys who will put all their kid's chips on Football Star probably don't have great tools for handling those feelings.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:06 PM on August 28 [3 favorites]


Young men will continue to play football because of what I heard this morning from Booger McFarland, former NFL player and current ESPN employee. He said he played football because in this country it was one of the ways a guy like him could make a lot of money.

If you are physically gifted enough and have the grit to stay in the grind, the chance is there for a big payday. For many young men, that is motivation to play and stay and endure considerable pain. So they can help their families in a significant way that would not be possible otherwise.
posted by narancia at 1:32 PM on August 28


If you are physically gifted enough and have the grit to stay in the grind, the chance is there for a big payday

and you can flip a coin and get heads 20 times in a row when it comes to knee/shoulder/brain injuries.
posted by GuyZero at 1:37 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


We already see this in military service, for instance, where enlisted service members are more likely to come from lower-income backgrounds

Related: Are $15 Minimum Wage Laws Hurting U.S. Army Recruitment?
Since the Army is not subject to local minimum wage laws, Seattle pay now outstrips what locals could earn by signing up for the Army. $15 per hour is not only more than the base pay for privates, but corporals and specialists as well.
People who have other options for income rarely choose the paths that involve destroying their post-physical-peak lives. And while people will be drawn to, "if you're good enough, you could make millions!" they're less likely to commit to that "maybe" if they know they could reliably make $50-$100k fixing cars or building houses or teaching kids to play sportsball at nonlethal levels of intensity.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:40 PM on August 28 [3 favorites]


Andrew Luck was the best college QB I've ever seen play. I hoped his NFL career would have been better, but when you're hurt all the time, that's out of your control. He absolutely made the right choice to leave on his terms.

Football is fun to play... until it's not. We used to play all the time as kids. Some days it was touch, some days it was tackle, never mind that we didn't have pads. I've heard from a former college player that football is a lot of fun for 22 guys on the team and not much fun at all for the rest of the roster. In high school, only a tiny percent of the guys who play will play in college. The guys who are on a college team were all studs in HS football. And most of those guys become one of the 80 or so who don't get to have all the fun. Then, only about one percent of college players will get a shot at the NFL. You have to wonder how many of the guys in the NFL enjoy what they're doing, because for a lot of them they're just trying to hang on to a roster spot so they can keep making money playing football. For a lot of those guys, we're talking a few hundred thousand per year, which sounds like a lot of money but the earning window is very limited and the damage to the body can be lasting. Read this Reddit thread and notice how many commenters said they played HS or college football and say they're still dealing with the aftereffects.
posted by azpenguin at 1:54 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]


The QB before Manning was Jim Harbaugh, who was Andrew Luck's head coach in college.

If you take all of the demographic data you can possibly think of and use it to determine which boy is going to grow up to be a professional athlete, the one factor that eclipses all others -- more than his height, more than his 40-yard speed, more than where he lives, even more than what opportunities he has (e.g., road teams, high school that emphasizes a particular sport) -- is "Was his father a professional athlete?" It's a small fraternity, and access to it is not and has never been as purely meritocratic as people think it is.
posted by Etrigan at 1:58 PM on August 28 [6 favorites]


Maybe, but boxing is back and more violent than ever in the form of MMA. That makes me think that maybe the decline in boxing's popularity wasn't due to public disgust with the inherent violence, but just lousy promotion.

Eh. MMA seems to involve a lot less hits to the head on a daily basis, and those hits happen with smaller gloves. There's also a lot of grappling that doesn't necessarily involve head trauma. But mostly it hasn't been around long enough for people to see the damage it might cause, where if you walk into a boxing gym, you see guys who are clearly brain damaged. Which...yeah.

I think there's an argument that MMA might not be as dangerous for the brain as boxing, although that's not saying much. But it's definitely true that whatever long term damage MMA does cause in even amateur practitioners is currently way less visible than boxing. So. Give it time.
posted by schadenfrau at 2:04 PM on August 28 [5 favorites]


Whitney Young High School, in Chicago, had to cancel an entire season because not enough kids signed up for the football team.

Which is awesome, but I am less worried about the magnet school kids (I'm guessing their cognitive reserve is just fine), and more concerned about the kids with a "normal" IQ -- or rather, kids whose IQ would have been normal, had they not spent their formative years bashing into each other. As long as there's an underclass in America, there'll be a group of people signing away their brains for the chance to make a million dollars a day.

There are ways to play football without too many concussions. (Although to this neurologist, one concussion is one too many.) Touch football, rather than tackle, is one; that's what the junior leagues played where I grew up, and what the weekend warrior adult leagues play now. Touch football is a lot less fun to watch, though, so I doubt it'll ever win favor with the NFL.

The other option is to rigorously enforce the CDC Guidelines on Return-to-Play, with independent assessments by a non-NFL doctor. Those won't stop individual concussions, but the current thinking is that CTE is induced by repeated concussion/subconcussive trauma without allowing time for recovery, and RtP really focuses on rest and repeated reassessment. I don't know the data well enough to see if it has been shown to be effective at preventing CTE -- it'll probably be a few decades before we know that, and definitely not in a randomized trial way -- but it's helpful, I think, as a framework.
posted by basalganglia at 2:26 PM on August 28 [3 favorites]


"There are ways to play football without too many concussions"

I just want to heartily endorse this statement.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:37 PM on August 28


boxing is back and more violent than ever in the form of MMA. That makes me think that maybe the decline in boxing's popularity wasn't due to public disgust with the inherent violence, but just lousy promotion. And maybe there wasn't even a real decline in popularity.

UFC's yearly revenue is in the range of $500 million to $800 million, which is a ton of money. The NFL's 2018 revenue was $16 billion, and they're planning to hit $25 billion by 2020. The top tier of boxing matches earn about $500 million a pop in pay-per-view sales, but they really only happen every 2-3 years. The Super Bowl makes about that much in ad sales, but that happens every single year and only constitutes a small percentage of the league's revenue, not the vast majority like a marquee boxing match does. Everyone associated with the NFL would be liquidated if the league's revenue dropped to what even MMA and boxing combined are at.

As far as combat sports go over the long term, one thing that was striking when I looked up these numbers is that the highest-selling pay-per-view boxing match of all time is still The Rumble in the Jungle, which made $510 million, a huge amount for 1974. Adjusted for inflation, that's a couple billion dollars, easy. Boxing really did used to be one of the most popular forms of entertainment in this country such that even at its heights now, it's maybe a quarter as popular as it was then. Again, if this is what happens to the NFL, everyone who currently owns a team is going to have lost an incredible amount of money.
posted by Copronymus at 2:58 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


Smart guy, CTE is no joke. There's no test for it until after you die either.
posted by 47WaysToLeaveYourLover at 4:29 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


Which is awesome, but I am less worried about the magnet school kids (I'm guessing their cognitive reserve is just fine),

Let me give you some more context. Whitney Young kids do indeed have plenty of cognitive reserve. And next to no financial reserve. It's (de facto) the African American magnet school. I went to Lane Tech, the (again, de facto) white magnet school. For your typical Whitney Young student, an athletic scholarship isn't the ticket to college. They got that in the bag, no worries. Instead, it's the difference between saddling up insane levels of student debt and then knowing they will have to rush out to industry after the bachelor's degree, or, actually having a chance at grad school after college.

So when the school wound up shutting down the football team for a year, it was the result of students making decisions that none took lightly.

Was it the CTE evidence coming to light?
Was the way the league treated Colin Caepernick?
Was it the way football games have become these displays of theater where every participant has to pretend all is well in this country of ours?

Probably all of the above. The most telling this is that the year this happened, the school could have fielded a full roster if they were willing to relax the rules on academic probabtion to let 2 more students play. The principal suggested it to the student council. The students said no.
Change really is afoot here. Communities that. were pressed to provide the arenas with gladiators are starting to refuse.
posted by ocschwar at 8:31 PM on August 28 [6 favorites]


I admire Tim Green and in some ways I think it's fine that he feels he got a good deal overall. But watching that 60 Minutes show, I hoped it wasn't intended as any sort of a counterpoint to the Luck story. Green seems to think the injuries were worth it for the experience of playing, and certainly his writing career has flowed from that experience. And the rules and practices were different when he was playing. But I think people are still going to see that 60 Minutes episode as encouragement to play football, and it's still not safe.
posted by BibiRose at 8:17 AM on August 29


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