Conor Orr and Jenny Vrentas dive into Andrew Luck's stunning retirement and how mental health played a significant role in his decision this week on The MMQB NFL Podcast. It follows a path that Rob Gronkowski took after he unexpectedly walked away from football following his third Super Bowl title this past season. Is this becoming a trend around the NFL?
(Listen to the latest The MMQB NFL Podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Conor Orr: I want to start today's edition talking a little bit about player mental health. I think it's been an interesting week for the topic. Not only do we have Andrew Luck talking about the cycle of pain and rehabilitation that he went through, and that's something that informed his decision to retire at the age of 29. But as we're recording this today on Tuesday, Rob Gronkowski at a press conference talked about a basically similar thing. The night of the Super Bowl he couldn't enjoy himself, he was up crying from a hit that he took to his quadriceps and that cycle, that pain-rehabilitation-recovery cycle, contributed to his own retirement at the age of 30. I just think it's a really interesting time. While there's been a lot of great reporting on mental health and scores and scores of examples of players through the years saying that this game does have a detrimental effect on them post-career, whether it's just mentally or physically or both. These are two extremely visible and high-profile players that have done this I think in the last week.
Jenny Vrentas: It speaks to players being more willing to be open about it. Both of these cases, it influenced an early retirement, right. And you know, we saw Brian Dawkins at his Hall of Fame speech talk about it two summers ago, and we've seen a lot of players be strong voices. Solomon Thomas from the 49ers talked about not only becoming an advocate for mental health after his sister died by suicide, but he had mental health issues that he needed to confront as well. And we've seen that the NFL and the NFLPA now have, in the CBA, regulations for requirements for mental health resources available to players on a weekly basis that wasn't in the CBA before. So now it can be penalized and now it's basically setting a standard for the minimal amount of care that teams should offer players. And so I think that's sort of coming around to this idea that mental health does affect physical health and vice versa. And confronting that more head-on.
Orr: Do you think that this week in particular at least motivates teams to maybe ask more questions or just be more aware of this?
Vrentas: Yeah. Because as we see with teams that are often not motivated until it affects them on the field. And here you have cases of ‘well it's affecting players on the field,’ whether they're taking a mental health leave or it’s a factor in retirement. You see the player and you see the impact and it's it shouldn't have to come to that, right? But I think we often see that the motivation is like, ‘Oh wow this is affecting my team on the field so let's do something to address it.’
Orr: So let's start there. Andrew Luck obviously, I mean I think we've all heard the news this weekend, stunned the football world by walking away from the game at 29, a little less than two weeks away from the regular season. I mean, what do you make of his ultimate legacy? I mean where do you think that Andrew Luck will be talked about 10,15, 20 years from now?
Vrentas: It's possible that his legacy is opening the door for players to make these kinds of decisions right. I mean we have seen some of these decisions the past several years, but this is a starting quarterback, two weeks before the season, giving up five hundred million dollars essentially over the next X years, and perhaps normalizing it. You know, I think there's the focus on okay, 'he was the best prospect coming out of college that we'd seen since who knows when, and he was the number one pick and the Colts had it made going from Peyton to Andrew Luck, and what a missed opportunity.' But I think a lot of the message that he sent was so powerful about, he wasn't happy in life and this wasn't what he needed to do to have the life that he wanted to leave. It's very inspiring Conor for those of us who maul our daily existence.
Orr: I was going to say like it is sort of like, you get that hit of like you imagine just one day coming into gobs and gobs of money and then disappearing to a small town outside of France and just reading you know for a month and just getting better, healthier, jogging, you know. And he's going to do all that, so good for you, Andrew. Really happy for you.
Vrentas: Yeah, very inspiring.
Orr: I think part of the conversation though needs to be that, when people are saying 'this is so great, this is so great, this is so great,' there's still a segment of the NFL population, and I would say a very large segment of the NFL population, that can't afford to make this decision, right? Whether you have families that you need to take care of, you have financial obligations, you know Andrew Luck came from a well to do family and I think he was raised to consider all that stuff in his headspace, you know personal health and everything like that. And so while it's sort of a victory I think for the mental health crowd, I think we need to care as much about the people who need to play in the NFL you know, and that at the same time they can't just walk away and pursue their mental health.
Vrentas: Yeah, and for those players who are in that situation, the idea of how the team is caring for them physically, then the Luck situation puts that into perspective, I mean did the Colts do enough to protect him? Obviously this started before the current regime, but he suffered a lot physically. And did he have to, right? Could the team have been more diligent and vigilant in recognizing things earlier on and protecting him from playing? I think there's a lot of lingering questions there about the culpability of those in power in the early stages of his career.
Orr: Yeah you hate to make that leap that you know the Colts didn't come after him for the remainder of that, I think they reached some sort of financial settlement. But, I feel like if they fought him on that you're opening the door to legitimate questions about why he ended up that way in the first place. The injury timeline, I think it was last year, two years ago, I went through Roto World, those injury updates, and just wrote down every single time that he was mentioned on the injury report. It's stunning that he was asked to play in some of these situations, I don't know if it was forced to play or however you want to put it, but they ruined a franchise quarterback. I mean this is their own doing I feel like.
Vrentas: It got to this point where a calf or ankle or whatever seemingly minor injury, you never want to say minor injury because obviously what these players put their bodies through, but something that didn't require surgery and that that was the breaking point. And it wasn't just this, it was the cumulative effect of all these other past experiences that had been largely negative for him.