NATIVIDAD: For pro contact sports athletes, retiring young should be commended not vilified | TheUnion.com

NATIVIDAD: For pro contact sports athletes, retiring young should be commended not vilified

If you could retire at the age of 30, would you?

If you didn’t answer yes to that question, you’re lying to yourself.

I mean, that’s why so many people fork over a few bucks a week to play the state lottery or win big in a Las Vegas casino. It’s an attempt to circumvent the 50 years or so of work you typically have to put in to reap the benefits of a 401(k) retirement fund that you can live off of for the final 10 to 20 years of your life. That is if you don’t die before then.

I guess it’s all a gamble.

Which brings us to Andrew Luck. The former National Football League quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts recently announced his retirement at the ripe old age of 29, causing some to criticize his decision to call it quits so young. Luck cited the ongoing injuries and rehab he has gone through over the past four years as one reason for his retirement. Luck and his wife are also reportedly expecting their first child.

His retirement has sparked criticism around the so-called “laziness” of Millennials. While I can get into a whole rant about this, lets just look at the fact that sports stars retiring young is not a new thing.

NFL rusher Jim Brown called it quits at 29 after leading the league in rushing yards for eight seasons, and he has since become a vocal community activist. Two-way NFL and Major League Baseball star Bo Jackson retired from football at 28, and baseball at 31. In 1966, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax retired as a 30 year-old Cy Young Award winner who had just led his team to a National League pennant.

Although he would eventually have two more stints in the National Basketball Association, let us not forget that Michael Jordan initially called it quits at the age of 30. Others include Rocky Marciano, Barry Sanders, Calvin Johnson and the list goes on.

While the timing of Luck’s retirement, which came weeks before the NFL regular season begins, may be up for debate, the personal reasons he has are none of our damn business. I mean, how dare this man think about his life, his family and his health so rationally? How dare he choose his well-being over the $58 million left on his contract?

Sometimes the juice isn’t worth the squeeze.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, as much as 3.8 million sports and recreation related concussions occur each year in the U.S. Annually, 10 percent of all contact sports athletes sustain concussions. Also an estimated 280,000 children seek emergency room care due to sports-related traumatic brain injury, with nearly half of those incidents being due to contact sports.

For pro athletes, that’s a lifetime of trauma.

Former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, 30, retired this past March. In a recent interview, “Gronk” told CBS Sports “In order to do something bigger in life … I felt like I had to get away from the game and focus on my health.” The same goes for former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis who retired in 2015, also at the age of 30, citing his desire to maintain his health and ability to walk.

These are examples of players that understood the ramifications of a career that could eventually debilitate them physically and mentally, or even end their life.

Former Patriots linebacker Junior Seau committed suicide after a nearly 20-year career in the NFL. Following his death, he was diagnosed with a degenerative brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, also known as CTE. More recently, former NFL fullback Le’Ron McClain pleaded for help on Twitter stating “I have to get my head checked… Playing fullback since high school. It takes too (expletive) much to do anything. My brain is (expletive) tired.”

The damage is not confined to just football.

In July, professional junior welterweight boxer Maxim Dadashev died after sustaining brain injuries from an 11th round knockout loss. He was 28.

As a sports fan myself, I understand that we sometimes live to witness iconic moments in sports history. To be able to tell our children where we were when we watched an aging Muhammad Ali magically defeat a young hard-hitting George Foreman to win the heavyweight championship of the world.

But for some of these athletes being a part of those mythic moments are not as important as growing old themselves, and getting the chance to sit with their own children, with all of their faculties.

Ali, while revered by some as the greatest boxer of all time, lived much of the remainder of his life suffering from Parkinson’s disease due to multiple head injuries. Nothing could be more indicative than the image of a quivering Olympic torch held high by Ali during the 1996 Atlanta games.

We want the inspiration without thinking about the consequences.

So when I see a professional athlete taking their life into their own hands, I say bravo and good for them, because for some people gambling a great life for the potential of a great moment is not worth it.

Ivan Natividad is a columnist who contributes to The Union regularly. He can be reached at ivanthereporter@gmail.com.


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