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My New Book!

Thursday, February 9, 2023

February 9, 2023: Football Figures: Andrew Luck

[For this year’s annual Super Bowl series, I wanted to focus on some football figures & communities. Leading up to a special weekend tribute to some of our best current public scholarly SportsStudiers!]

On a specific and a broader way to contextualize a shocking retirement.

Early last December, ESPN’s website ran a phenomenal deep-dive story from writer Seth Wickersham on Andrew Luck’s stunningly abrupt August 2019 retirement from professional football. The story’s at the first hyperlink above and is well worth checking out in full; so in lieu of a first full paragraph for this post, do that if you would and then come on back here for a couple takeaways.

Welcome back! In specific football terms, I’d say that the through-line of Luck’s repeated pattern of injuries, recoveries and rehabs, and the psychological and emotional costs of that process is a telling window into what professional football does to those who play it, beyond even the somewhat more familiar now stories of concussions and their effects. Watching, discussing, and sharing football with my sons has been one of my very favorite things, not just over the last decade or so but really of my whole life, and so the thought of giving it up is hugely painful. But they’re thoughtful and responsible enough young men that we can and do talk about the sport’s harsher realities as part of those conversations, and Luck’s story (literally and figuratively) reminds us that those realities touch every football player, even those who seem particularly blessed in their experiences of the sport (which, as that story and Luck acknowledge, seemed to be the case for him).

More broadly, I’d say the Luck story is one of the best illustrations I’ve ever encountered of the great quote often linked to (and of course tragically embodied by) comedian and actor Robin Williams (although who actually said it first is a very open and perhaps unanswerable question it seems): “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.” The emphasis is often and understandably placed on “you know nothing about”—that even when someone seems to be doing great by every possible measure, they can and likely are still facing demons of one kind or another (something I’ve thought a lot about since reading Bruce Springsteen’s memoir). But in an era when all of us (and I’m fully including myself in this critique) are so quick to attack folks for any number of reasons, from the most significant and serious to the seemingly small or momentary, it would be worth trying to remember the “everyone” part of the quote as well. I’m not saying that struggles excuse any and all actions or behaviors—see Ye for a case in point of when and how they most definitely do not—but would nonetheless note that Andrew Luck reminds us that struggles of one kind or another are, indeed, a ubiquitous part of the human condition, now as ever.

Last football figure tomorrow,


PS. What do you think? Football figures or communities you’d highlight?

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