On Saturday night, while the Indianapolis Colts were in the middle of a preseason matchup with the Chicago Bears, a stunning piece of news broke: The 29-year-old star quarterback of the Colts, Andrew Luck, would soon announce his retirement. Luck’s decision was unusual for a host of reasons—that it came just weeks before the start of the season, his reputation as one of the game’s best quarterbacks, and—crucially—his young age at a position where players with his talent can succeed at a high level well into their thirties.
Many Colts fans turned on Luck. During the game, photographers captured images of spectators in the stands at Lucas Oil Stadium removing their number-12 jerseys. Former University of Texas linebacker Emmanuel Acho caught the reaction from the crowd as Luck left the sideline.
Colts fans boo-ing Andrew Luck as he walks into the Lockeroom.
Coach always said, “the pats on the back eventually turn into stabs” pic.twitter.com/awT6yHCikY
— Emmanuel Acho (@thEMANacho) August 25, 2019
Up until Saturday’s shocking announcement, at every level of his career, Luck has been viewed as a model NFL quarterback. The son of former Houston Oilers quarterback Oliver Luck (now commissioner of the upstart XFL), Luck was a five-star recruit out of Houston’s Stratford High School. (Though, along with Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel, he’s among the college football greats from Texas who Mack Brown didn’t recruit to UT.) Luck opted to spend four years in California as a Stanford Cardinal. Following further success in college, he was perhaps the most hyped quarterback to enter the NFL Draft in a generation. After an injury to incumbent starter Peyton Manning derailed the Colts’ 2011 season, the team took Luck with the first pick of the 2012 draft, setting up an Indianapolis team that had already been a consistent playoff team for more than a decade for another fifteen or more years of success. It almost seemed unfair.
Luck delivered on his promise. He went to the Pro Bowl his first three seasons, as well as in 2018, when he also earned Comeback Player of the Year honors after overcoming an injury that kept him off the field the prior season. (Luck would have been crowned Rookie of the Year in 2012, had Griffin not delivered a legendary campaign that same year.)
The boos from the crowd reflect an ugly, and unfair, sentiment. Luck was as hardworking and dedicated a player as any team could want during his seven seasons. He didn’t owe the team or its fans any more than he gave them. The idea that he left the team in the lurch by announcing his retirement so close to the beginning of the season is based on a premise that seems thinner by the hour. It’s become clear in the days since the news broke that Luck had been having retirement conversations with the Colts brass long before the third week of the preseason. Owner Jim Irsay told reporters that he urged Luck to “hold off as long as you can,” presumably hoping that the quarterback would be moved by the start of the season to stick around for another year.
Still, even that admission wasn’t enough to stop countless fans on Twitter from sharing their bad takes.
Luck ultimately should do what's best for him but dont blame the fans for booing. They're in shock, pissed, sad. They'll eventually get over it & appreciate him but you cannot blame them for their reaction. They're fans & love their team that now will go 1-15. https://t.co/MfOTZRMNOM
— Kevin Graham (@KGrahamSports) August 25, 2019
Retiring cause rehabbing is “too hard” is the most millennial thing ever #AndrewLuck
— Doug Gottlieb (@GottliebShow) August 25, 2019
Gottlieb, a commentator for Fox Sports 1, is rare among professional sports pundits in attacking Luck. Most of the talk about him being a “quitter” comes from fans. The fact that Gottlieb seems to have such a skewed perception of what goes into playing football, especially for a player with an injury history like Luck’s, did not escape the notice of a number of current and former players—including Cowboys legend Troy Aikman, who was cussin’ mad at the idea that Luck was somehow soft for deciding that enough was enough.
That’s total bullshit Doug. What qualifies you to decide how someone should live their life? 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? Guess that keeps you employed on FS1. Nice https://t.co/p59DsmPoER
— Troy Aikman (@TroyAikman) August 26, 2019
Plenty of other players defended Luck’s decision. Fans mostly care about their teams’ wins and losses, which makes sense. Winning keeps them enthused about spending money on the game and tuning in every Sunday. Players, meanwhile, also care about their quality of life, their health, and other entirely reasonable factors. Luck told reporters after the news broke that “For the last four years or so, I’ve been in this cycle of injury, pain, rehab, injury, pain, rehab, and it’s been unceasing, unrelenting, both in-season and offseason. And I felt stuck in it, and the only way I see out is to no longer play football. It’s taken my joy of this game away.” That’s a remarkable amount of candor, and if a person in any other job said “I’m in constant pain because of what I do, and I have been for four years, and I don’t enjoy my work anymore,” most of us would say “you should find a different job.”
Luck is almost certain to do that, whether it’s in sports or outside of it. He’s made a lot of money in his NFL career—even as he’s leaving tens (or maybe hundreds) of millions of dollars on the table by walking away now. He can afford to take time to figure out what’s next. Following his own NFL career, Luck’s dad went to the University of Texas law school and became a sports executive. Luck, a bright guy, could well follow that same path. He could choose to do anything he wants with the rest of his life. We’ll see what that ends up being. Whatever that turns out to be, Luck will do it in better health than if he’d continued to play, with a brighter future ahead of him than if he’d further risked long-term disabilities in an attempt to avoid being called a quitter by fans there to cheer for his uniform and not the man wearing it.