For a majority of the population, walking away from earning millions of dollars is not an easy task. This is the reality NFL players are facing today; deciding whether to continue to play and risk their health or walk away from the game they dedicated their lives to. Recently more NFL players then ever before are choosing to retire early from football.
In a league where the average career is three and a half years, it’s not uncommon to see young talent leave the game. In most circumstances it’s contracts not being renewed or injuries that could not be over come. But times are changing and a new trend may be on the rise in the NFL from super stars to role players, retiring young and healthy.
Former San Francisco 49er Patrick Willis, 31-year-old and seven time Pro Bowler, recently decided to retire from football. Immediately after his announcement, questions arose to why? Assumptions were made: was he going to be released, maybe traded or did he have a possible career-ending injury? During his retirement ceremony Willis didn’t cite any of these, instead he focused on his current health and staying healthy.
“Honestly, I pay attention to guys when they’re finished playing, walking around and they’ve got no hips or they can’t play with their kids or they can’t play a pickup basketball game or they can barely walk,” Willis said. “So that’s been in my heart. It’s my health first and everything else kind of just makes sense around it.”
Willis is not the only one, within a week’s span, Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker; Pittsburg Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds; Oakland Raiders running back Maurice Jones-Drew, and the most shocking a teammate of Willis’, 24-year-old 49er linebacker Chris Borland all decided to hang up their cleats and call it a career.
Most NFL fans can’t make sense of these decisions. Ask any young football player from pee wee to college and most have aspirations of fulfilling their dreams of playing in the NFL. It’s no secret that injuries occur in football and there are risks to playing such a violent game, but past players knew that and new players know now upon entering the league. So, why now?
Football has been changing with the times. The style of play has changed, the speed of play is faster than it has ever been. Football attracts the most unique physical athletes on the planet. These players are not only faster then ever, but they are stronger then ever, which leads to the most physically punishing hits we have ever seen. Players have taken notice.
The former promising young linebacker for San Francisco, Borland, shocked football fans everywhere when, after just one season in the NFL he decided to call it quits.
In an interview with ESPN Borland discussed his thought process behind his decision, “I just honestly want to do what’s best for my health. From what I’ve researched and what I’ve experienced, I don’t think it’s worth the risk.”
Borland did acknowledge he didn’t know if anything would ever happen, but he wasn’t going to wait and find out.
It was a shock for Borland to say he didn’t think playing in the NFL was “worth” the risk. Millions of dollars these players are leaving behind. Like teammate Willis who left with three years and nearly $20 million left on his contract. These players are choosing a better standard of living in exchange for the millions offered to them.
Current Fullerton College football players have weighed in on the subject as well. Safety Tim Roberts, who will be entering his second season for the Hornets explained his experience with a concussion and how it affected him.
“That is the biggest scare of my life,” said Roberts. “I went head to head with a guy in high school and everything was blurry, I was seeing two or three running backs, but there was really only one running back.”
Roberts resisted coming out of the game, but his coach at Homerville High School in Louisiana finally forced him out after watching him lose his balance and fall down on a chip block.
Roberts explained the duration of his recovery time as well, “It took me at least a week. Man, it was terrible.”
Despite the acknowledged risk, Roberts and other teammates still appreciate the game and will continue to dedicate themselves to a sport they have loved and played since they were kids.
“I have seen kids get concussions, get knocked out on the field,” said Hornets safety Jarrot Brown. “But, everyone [on our team] is the same, football is life. It is too fun to just give up. We have been born and raised into it and just don’t want to give it up.”
Brown, a recruit from Alabama has been playing football since he was six-years-old, admits that he completely understands professionals deciding to retire early.
“Guys that make it to the big leagues and get in, get their money and get out, shoot, I don’t blame them,” said Brown.
The NFL might be a dangerous career choice for young athletes, but it is hard for most of them to walk away from the game they love and have dedicated the majority of their life to.
Although we are seeing an influx of players walking away from the game early this offseason, it is clear that there will always be another player eager to take advantage of the opportunity and fulfill their childhood dream of making to the NFL. The majority of players still choose to strap on the helmet and go to work.