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Volume 27 No. 5
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Kuechly Continues Conversation Around NFL Stars Retiring Early

The most recent NFL retirements "represent a landmark shift in players' priorities," and slowly, the league's "warrior culture is eroding, dismantled by scientific research, individual financial security and an increasing awareness among players that continuing in the game they love may very well damage their quality of life," according to Ben Shpigel of the N.Y. TIMES. Now-retired big name players like Luke Kuechly, Andrew Luck and Rob Gronkowski all were "under-30 stars who in the last 10 months chose long-term health over short-term success." Calvin Johnson in '16 retired at 30 and was "forced to repay" the team $1M of his signing bonus. Patrick Willis, a "five-time, first-team All-Pro" playing LB for the 49ers, was the "same age when he retired" in early '15. Following Kuechly's announcement, NFL Retired Players Association President Carl Eller said, "Players are definitely getting smarter. They are gathering information to make some tough decisions. I don't think we had some of that information. ... Today, there's a lot more light at the end of the tunnel." Meanwhile, Kuechly in announcing his retirement did "not mention any specific injuries, or the multiple concussions he sustained" over his eight-year career. Kuechly missed seven games "because of concussions" between '15-17. Concussion Legacy Foundation co-Founder & CEO Dr. Chris Nowinski in an email wrote that he thought concerns about CTE "played a role in some of the players' decisions to retire at a relatively early age" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/16).

CONNECTING THE DOTS? ABCNEWS.com's Alexandra Svokos wrote players now are "arguably more aware" than ever before of the "potential lifelong risks of playing -- and each additional year only increases those risks" (ABCNEWS.com, 1/15). CBSSPORTS.com's Jonathan Jones wrote players now have "more information available" and "more money." The decision to walk away from football "can be made easier with financial security for their lives and their next generation." Gronkowski made around $54M in his career, and in the next several years it is "possible he doubles that and more with his various endorsement deals and potential movie contracts." The NFL "still trails behind the MLB and NBA in terms of guaranteed money and average salaries per year to its top players," but the league's "incredible growth over the last quarter-century has introduced [a] permanently-life-changing money tier that previously didn't exist." The NFL's "robust pension and insurance packages" also will "always be there for them." Jones: "Money was one thing none of them had to consider" (CBSSPORTS.com, 1/15).

SETTING A PRECEDENT? USA TODAY's Mike Jones wrote in Kuechly's retirement message it was "evident how well thought-out a decision he was making." For decades, the game "mercilessly chewed up and spat out players." But now fans are seeing players "wise up." They are "capitalizing on opportunities, maximizing earning potential, dabbling in investments, and then they get out before they're too broken in mind and body to enjoy the fruits of their labor." Jones: "Don't be surprised if we see more of this." The league has been "trending this way for a while." The coming year "could feature more than three early departures," and eventually, "we'll think nothing of it" (USA TODAY, 1/15). A CHARLOTTE OBSERVER editorial stated, "For the vast majority of athletes, sports quit you before you quit sports. ... Kuechly, however, gets to do it his way -- perhaps sooner than he imagined, but perhaps soon enough that the game doesn't haunt him" (1/16). YAHOO SPORTS' Terez Paylor wrote, fans are "witnessing a sea change in pro football ... one where players who love the game and are great at it are still deciding to retire." Paylor: "We should all be grateful for this evolution" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/15).