Andrew Luck retires from the Indi­anapolis Colts. | Courtesy Wikipedia

Indi­anapolis Colts quar­terback Andrew Luck recently sent shock­waves through the sports world with the announcement of his early retirement after only six seasons in the league.

Luck took advantage of his platform bringing attention to an often unspoken issue among NFL players: mental health.

“I feel tired,” Luck said during his retirement speech. “Not just tired in the physical sense.” He held back tears during his final press con­ference with the Indi­anapolis Colts, in which he cited his extreme and repeated physical injuries as his main reason for leaving the game of football as well as the desire to focus on raising his family.

Football experts regarded Luck — Stanford graduate and the first overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft — as one of the greatest quar­ter­backs to play in recent history: a future Hall-of-Famer. His arm strength, split-second decision-making, lead­ership on the field, unpar­al­leled sports­manship, and deep devotion to the game made him one of the league’s favorite per­son­al­ities.

In a 2018 article pub­lished in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, an ex-NFL player speaking anony­mously said, “The reason it’s so lonely is we put those walls up… and nobody can know that I’m feeling con­cerned about my per­for­mance, that I’m insecure about this or that because football, in a sense, is ultimate mer­i­tocracy and such a manly thing that you just you always feel like you gotta be on, you know?”

The NFL recently made an attempt to address potential mental health issues that players face.

The Players Asso­ci­ation of the NFL drafted an ini­tiative that would require every team in the league to have a mental health pro­fes­sional on staff. Players will be required to spend 8 – 12 hours at the team mental health facility, according to a May 2019 press release. The ini­tiative would also establish a mental health and wellness com­mittee that would develop edu­ca­tional mate­rials that players would have access to, if in need.

While these projects are a great step towards improving the mental health of pro­fes­sional ath­letes, there is an even greater under­lying problem that no press release or pub­li­cized ini­tiative can solve.

Luck sat out for the entirety of the 2017 season, nine games in 2015, and mul­tiple games in the rest of his six year career with the Colts. His career list of injuries includes tearing car­tilage near two of his ribs, lac­er­ating a kidney, tearing a muscle in his abdomen, tearing his right labrum, chronic calf strains with lin­gering pain, and mul­tiple con­cus­sions.

For someone who relies on the well­being of his body to con­tinue doing what he loves and what he is paid to do, a string of mis­for­tunes as long as Luck’s would take a hefty toll on their mental health.

While most of Luck’s fans or the NFL as a whole can respect the decision of a young star to step away from the game to avoid a similar fate, he has faced explosive and unwar­ranted backlash from many. Neg­ative reac­tions ranged from angry social media posts to audible booing from those who for­merly called them­selves fans.

NFL fans must realize that players are people too.

Being handed mil­lions of dollars during or directly after college, as well as being placed on one of the largest public stages, and faced with the pressure that comes with being some of the most phys­i­cally-gifted humans in the world, NFL players have a lot on their plate. It can create an immense amount of mental strain in young people that puts them at an increased risk of depression, on top of the risk of per­manent brain and body damage.

Anyone who pro­fesses to be a better-or-worse fan of the NFL and its players should embrace early retire­ments and cel­e­brate the stars for the great years they gave us. Andrew Luck was drafted shortly after the Colts lost leg­endary Peyton Manning. He carried the team to the playoffs three years in a row imme­di­ately after being drafted, passed for more than 23,000 yards, 171 touch­downs, and was awarded the Comeback Player of the Year Award in 2018.

Someone who con­tributed so much to a fran­chise and the league as a whole should never be booed out of a stadium for making the decision to repair and pre­serve his mental and physical health.