Andrew Luck Has Gotten A Bad Rap

As a doctor, former high school football player, and father, I completely understand and support his decision to retire

The Doctor Is In
Aug 31 · 3 min read
Source: Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

The decision was shocking. Andrew Luck, 29, quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts, abruptly announced his retirement from the NFL. He is seemingly at the pinnacle of his career, and he is leaving behind millions of dollars that were due to be paid to him. He cited his the tremendous toll on his health:

He is leaving football because football ground him down. Like so many who play it, Luck — one of the game’s best quarterbacks — had given football a good deal of his physical well-being. According to The Athletic’s Colts reporter Zak Keefer, Luck, over the six seasons of his pro career, had suffered ‘torn cartilage in two ribs, a partially torn abdomen, a lacerated kidney, at least one concussion, a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder,’ and most recently, a calf and ankle injury, which had kept him out of the team’s preseason action.

I completely understand and support his decision, not only as a doctor, but as a father and a former high school football player myself.

The average NFL career is 3.3 years. The average life expectancy for a male in the United States is just over 76 years. You need your kidneys, abdomen, brain, ribs, and other vital organs for all of those 76 years, and when they fail, they are not very easily replaced, if they can be replaced at all.

My memories of playing football in high school are quite fond. I had a lot of fun; made a lot of friends; and I enjoyed the camaraderie and brotherhood that was spawned from being on the team. At the same time, I got injured quite a bit, and it was grueling on my body — and I was a young, and much stronger, teenager.

I can only imagine the toll that playing in the NFL takes on the body. As a doctor, I was shocked to read of all the injuries Andrew Luck suffered: torn abdomen? lacerated kidney? at least one concussion?

The average NFL career is 3.3 years, according to the NFL Players Association. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the average life expectancy for a male in the United States is just over 76 years. You need your kidneys, abdomen, brain, ribs, and other vital organs for those 76 years, and when they fail, they are not very easily replaced, if they can be replaced at all. Damage the brain, like what happens with chronic traumatic brain injury, and the effects will last the remainder of your life.

So, I applaud Andrew Luck’s courage for deciding that his body, his health, and ultimately his life, are more important than his career and stepping away from the game. And I am dismayed by the amount of criticism he has received.

There should be much more understanding among the NFL fan base — and I count myself among them — about Andrew Luck’s decision. Yes, few things are as fun as watching football games on Sundays, Mondays, and now Thursdays. I confess enjoying watching the hard hits, and I loved giving those hard hits when I played football in high school.

But, it is not our bodies that are being battered week in and week out. It is not our brains that are being traumatized with each jolt to the head, helmet notwithstanding. It is not our kidneys that are being lacerated or our ribs that are being broken. God willing, Andrew Luck will have many, many more years to live, and he has gotten a bad rap for his decision, and it is totally undeserved.

I have only one son, and I would love nothing more than for him to play sports — many of them, in fact. At the same time, I dread the day that he may come to me and say he wants to play tackle football. I am truly terrified of all the injuries he may suffer, especially to his young, developing brain. While I loved playing the game myself; while watching my son follow in my footsteps greatly warms my heart; if he does everything I do, except play football, I will be exceedingly happy as both a doctor and, more importantly, a father.

The Doctor Is In

Written by

Thoughts of Dr. Hesham A. Hassaballa, a Critical Care specialist and physician leader, author, and writer. His latest book is “Code Blue,” a medical thriller.

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