Andrew Luck's Retirement Stunned The NFL — And Left Behind A Big Message For The Game

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Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck stunned the football world last week with the announcement of his retirement at age 29. (Bobby Ellis/Getty Images)
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck stunned the football world last week with the announcement of his retirement at age 29. (Bobby Ellis/Getty Images)

With John Harwood

NFL quarterback Andrew Luck said, “I’m in pain,” and stunned the football world with his retirement at age 29. He left millions of dollars on the table and a big message for the game and fans.


Joe Nash, former NFL player for the Seattle Seahawks from 1982 to 1996.

Jason Gay, sports columnist for The Wall Street Journal and humor columnist for the WSJ's Review section. Author of the book “Little Victories.” (@jasongay)

David Steele, longtime NFL sportswriter. (@David_C_Steele)

From The Reading List

Wall Street Journal: "The Wisdom of Andrew Luck’s Retirement" — "To watch Andrew Luck speak Saturday night, at a hastily-assembled retirement press conference in Indianapolis, was to witness a man unburdened. The news of his decision to abruptly leave the NFL at age 29 may have shocked some, but Luck did not seem tormented by his choice. He was subdued, tearful at times, but he also appeared relieved.

" 'It’s sad,' Luck said, before adding: 'But I also have a lot of clarity.'

"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.

"It was a hellish inventory. But the medical particulars were just part of it. Luck had also grown overwhelmed by the soul-crushing cycle of injury and rehabilitation—the arduous process of recovering from pain, or at least recovering enough of the pain to get out there and risk damage again. He’d been to that awful, mentally-draining spot before—it had made him miserable, he said—and back then it had almost made him quit. He did not want to go there again.

" 'It’s been unrelenting,' he said. 'I felt stuck in it. The only way I see out is to no longer play football. It’s taken my joy of this game away.' "

Washington Post: "Andrew Luck: From the NFL to high school teacher?" — "Like most people, I was surprised when I heard the news Saturday that Andrew Luck had decided to retire from the NFL a few weeks shy of turning 30 — walking away from almost $60 million he was due to be paid by the Indianapolis Colts over the next three seasons.

"Surprised — yes, but shocked? No. Having spent a good deal of time with Luck two seasons ago while researching a book on playing quarterback in the NFL, I knew that Luck isn’t like most athletes. He loved playing the game and played it extremely well. But he doesn’t need to play the game.

"In 40 years as a reporter, I can’t begin to count the number of athletes I’ve asked what they plan on doing when their playing days are over. Most of the time the answers are remarkably similar: coach, get a job in TV or radio, or become a scout leading to a job as a general manager.

"When I asked Luck the routine question in March 2018, he smiled almost sheepishly. 'Honestly,' he said, 'I think I could be very happy teaching high school history.'

"That is an answer I’d never gotten before — or since."

The Atlantic: "What Andrew Luck’s Retirement Says About the NFL" — "Saturday evening, during a slate of otherwise forgettable NFL preseason games, word began circulating that Andrew Luck, the Pro Bowl quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts, was retiring, just two weeks ahead of the 2019 regular season. The news came as a shock. Luck had a history of injuries: Most recently, he missed the 2017 campaign following complications from shoulder surgery, and after returning last year, he had been held out of this year’s preseason because of calf and ankle issues. But he was just 29 years old in a league where top quarterbacks can now aim to play into their 40s. When healthy, he was one of the NFL’s most valuable players, and last season was one of his best; he threw for 39 touchdowns and a career-high 4,593 yards for a Colts team that reached the playoffs and seemed poised to reestablish itself as a title contender. He was a true franchise quarterback, perhaps the most envied status in American pro sports.

"The news of his retirement broke during the Colts’ game against the Chicago Bears, and after walking off the sideline to a chorus of boos, Luck held a press conference explaining his decision. 'I haven’t been able to live the life I want to live,' he said, referring to both the pain of his injuries and the degree of dedication required to recover from them. 'It’s taken the joy out of this game.'

"The past half decade has seen a number of NFL players quit the sport earlier than expected because of concerns about long-term health. In March, at the age of 29, the Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski joined the lengthening list. But if Luck’s decision is one data point in a developing pattern, it’s a particularly harrowing one. Throughout his career, Luck had a poster-boy aspect: smart and tough, skilled enough to unlock a defense, and courageous enough to battle back from the damage the game would inflict on him. He had been the NFL’s No. 1 overall pick, then its leader in passing touchdowns, then its comeback player of the year, a kind of unofficial ambassador figuring heavily in pregame shows and TV promos. Now he is the latest and most startling example of the toll the sport exacts—and of the willingness of some players to walk away from it."

Adam Waller produced this hour for broadcast.

This program aired on August 30, 2019.



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