The NFL world was shocked this past weekend with the news of the retirement of Carolina Panthers star Luke Kuechly. Kuechly’s head-banging style gave him many accolades, but presumably a toll on his body in exchange. Kuechly decided it was best to walk away, at the age of 28 and facing a full-on rebuild with the franchise.
The prime years of an athlete arguably range from 24-30. But the NFL’s physical play can take a toll on its players. Due to the speed and strength of players over time, NFL players’ value decreases each year-sort of like a car.
Considering this, Luke Kuechly understood the ramifications of staying in the NFL longterm. So he, like Rob Gronkowski and Andrew Luck before him, decided to call it quits early. He’s getting out of the game before the game gets everything out of him.
But NFL players should take notice of this trend. The NFL is a place that isn’t going anywhere and new, younger talent will enter the league each spring. Once a slip in their play happens, someone could be drafted or signed to take their place, even though they made an impact on their team for years. This is how the NFL is run, and it will always be this way.
Luke Kuechly, like Luck and Gronk before him, saw that it was a life outside of the NFL. They either were highly marketable (Kuechly, Gronk) or could make an impact in the world of academia/humanity (Luck). While all three, of course, could have played for another five-to-seven years, their logic was simple: why further damage their bodies and physical health when they could do and discover other things in that same time frame?
“Not For Long” has become synonymous with what the NFL has stood for. The players are paid handsomely, while some players have let their brand profit off of merchandise and endorsements. The money NFL players make in a year are more than most people would ever see in their lifetime.
But we as humans only get one life, body and mind, and it’s best to take care of it while we can. For NFL players, that would translate to making sure that if they can walk away healthy, it isn’t a crime to do so with everything intact. Too many NFL players are dead or physically unable to do their day-to-day tasks due to their time in the NFL. Which begs the question: what good is it to play at 75% capacity until you are 35?
Kuechly’s retirement should let younger NFL players see that there is more to this world we live in. It’s okay to play for a few years, earn a big contract and try to win Super Bowls. Essentially, this is why players want to fulfill their NFL dreams. They want to have a Super Bowl ring and make enough money to take care of themselves and their families.
However, it shouldn’t come at a risk to a player’s physical health. Currently, we are witnessing Antonio Brown having a meltdown before our eyes. Kuechly didn’t want to take that chance to watch his physical and mental spiral. Neither did Luck, or Gronk.
Play football, make your money and try to contend. But for the younger NFL players, take what you can out the game before the game takes it out of you. Luke Kuechly understood. Hopefully others will, too.