In the offseason, it seems as though everyday someone is retiring from the NFL. Some – like Peyton Manning, and Matt Hasselbeck – are retiring because it is due time.
That is not the case for others.
Players such as Marshawn Lynch and Calvin Johnson decided to hang up their cleats before turning 30 years old. But why? Lynch is coming off of having 1,200+ yard seasons in four of the last five years; Johnson is coming off of 6 years in a row of 1,000+ yard seasons.
Then there are players such as Heath Miller and D’Brickashaw Ferguson, who retired while still being productive and durable. Miller produced 535 yards last season while Ferguson has missed only one snap in his 10-year career.
Football is a violent sport. That much is obvious. 200, 250+ pound men running at and hitting each other as hard as possible is a recipe for injuries.
Fear of these injuries more-likely-than-not play into the decision of retiring early. However, I am not talking about the typical ankle, knee or pectoral injuries; I am talking about head injuries. Recently, concussions have been more brought to light, thanks in part to the 2015 film Concussion. The movie placed a greater emphasis and brought to light the role CTE plays on former NFL players.
According to the Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia, CTE, or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, is a brain condition that results from repeated head injuries. Because of these injuries, sufferers experience “…disturbances in behavior and personality…” and can experience symptoms such as “apathy, aggression, depression, irritability, impulsiveness, suicidal behavior, memory loss, and difficulty thinking.”
Having played football a few years and experiencing a decent amount of head trauma in the trenches, I can only begin to imagine just how intense those hits can be on a professional level. The repeated head trauma experienced on a week-to-week basis can only be handled so much by the human body. We, as Texans fans, have witnessed just how bad these injuries can get. In the span of one month, Brian Hoyer experienced two concussions, one against the Bengals on Monday Night Football and another against the Patriots on Sunday Night Football just 4 weeks later.
Ultimately, when a player coming out of college puts pen to paper when signing with an NFL team, they know what they are getting themselves into. After some having played as early as Pop Warner – all having played high school and college – they are fully aware of what their bodies have been through and know that it is only going to get worse once they are playing professionally.
While we truly never may know the actual reasons for why players such as Calvin Johnson and Marshawn Lynch are retiring before getting on the wrong side of 30, I can only imagine that they are conscious of what they have put their bodies (and brains) through during the time they have played in the NFL. The players that retired a few years into their 30s like Heath Miller and D’Brickashaw Ferguson have an even better grasp of what they have suffered over the years.
At the end of the day, like previously mentioned, it is up to the players to decide when to call it a career. While it is unfortunate that the greatness of Johnson and Lynch will no longer be witnessed on Sundays, we cannot blame them for taking this route.
Them choosing to call it a career early for the sake of living a longer, healthier, happier life is a decision that I respect and everyone else as a football fan should respect as well.