What booing Andrew Luck says about us

Published 8:56 pm Friday, August 30, 2019

By Rich Manieri

He was once hit hard enough to lacerate his kidney. He woke up the next day urinating blood.

That’s neither a common experience nor an occupational hazard for most of us. It is if you play professional football.

In addition to the kidney laceration, he has suffered a sprained shoulder, torn cartilage in his ribs, a concussion and shoulder surgery which caused him to miss all of the 2017 season. This season he was dealing with a calf strain.

So, citing the physical and mental burden that come with the accumulation of such injuries, Andrew Luck, 29, quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, decided to retire last weekend.

Luck officially announced his retirement after the Colts’ preseason game against the Chicago Bears. But the story leaked during the game, while Luck was standing on the sidelines. As Luck left the field in Indianapolis, where he played for seven years, some fans booed him, loud enough to be heard on TV and loud enough for Luck to hear.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I heard the reaction,” Luck said. “Yeah, it hurt. I’ll be honest, it hurt.”

I hope it’s at least of some consolation to Luck that many of those booing him probably count walking to the fridge as an aerobic workout.

NFL football players are wired differently than the rest of us. These are uber-competitive people who launch themselves at one another with little regard for their personal safety. Their careers are brief — only an average of 3.3 years, according to the union that represents the players. They leave the game beat up, with damage that often lingers for a lifetime. It’s no wonder when every play is a car crash.

Yes, they played the game by choice and were well-paid. That doesn’t make them less human. And if a player like Luck decides he’s had enough, that’s up to him and his family.

The booing of Luck is a lot of things — shameful, disgraceful, embarrassing, among others. It’s also confusing.

I love NFL football and watch a lot of it. We buy tickets and that gives us the right to jeer. But I have to wonder what the booing of Luck says about us as fans, and as people.

A man decides he can no longer compete at his maximum level because of the pounding he’s endured and walks away, leaving potentially hundreds of millions of dollars on the table. And we view that as an affront. We paid our money after all. He should continue to bleed for us, whether he wants to or not.

I realize the timing of Luck’s announcement — two weeks before the start of the regular season — wasn’t ideal and that the Colts let him keep $24 million in bonuses per his current contract. But these issues are between Luck and Colts. Or at least they should be.

Instead, it’s all about us and our entertainment and there’s no room for empathy, even among those who should know better.

“Retiring cause rehabbing is ‘too hard’ is the most millennial thing ever,” FS1 commentator Doug Gottlieb tweeted Saturday night.

That drew a harsh response from NFL analyst and former quarterback Troy Aikman.

“What qualifies you to decide how someone should live their life?” Aikman tweeted. “So you’re now the authority on what motivates Andrew Luck? And if his decisions don’t fit into what you think is best for him then you rip him?”

Bo Jackson, whose NFL career ended prematurely due to a debilitating hip injury, also chimed in.

“Don’t criticize a man until you’ve worn his cleats,” Jackson tweeted. “If you’ve never strapped on the pads you have no business commenting on something you know nothing about.”

Bo knows.

You might expect such responses from Jackson or Aikman, who has said he suffered at least six concussions during his playing career.

But what about the rest of us? Don’t our eyes tell us enough about what these men go through every Sunday? Do we need to be concussed or carried off a football field ourselves to understand what led to Luck’s decision?

Injuries didn’t allow Luck to become the quarterback his skillset indicated he would be when he came out of Stanford in 2012. Don’t think he isn’t aware of that.

Still, he was very good and he played through the kind of pain most of us will never experience.

Andrew Luck gave what he had. That should be enough.

RICH MANIERI is a Philadelphia-born journalist and author. He is a professor of journalism at Asbury University in Kentucky. His book, “We Burn on Friday: A Memoir of My Father and Me” is available at amazon.com. You can reach him at manieri2@gmail.com.