Andrew Luck, former Indianapolis Colts quarterback (284125)

Football is a collision sport; a violent collision sport. Many athletes who play the game for an extended period pay a steep physical and often mental price. On Saturday night, Andrew Luck, one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, caused a seismic reaction in the world of sports when ESPN reporter Adam Schefter broke the news that the Stanford University alumnus would be announcing his retirement the following day at the age of 29 with several potential All-Pro years still ahead of him.

While standing on the sidelines interacting with some of his Indianapolis Colts teammates during their preseason game against the Chicago Bears at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, word of Luck’s plans spread quickly among the crowd and reactionary fans began to boo him. For that moment, they were foolish and lacked empathy. The stunned and angry patrons that were heckling Luck couldn’t detach their emotions from their own self-interests.

With Luck, the Colts were expected to be a strong Super Bowl contender. Without him, there is reasonable uncertainty they’ll make the playoffs. That’s how good Luck was, a special talent who was also a well-liked and respected team leader. What a plethora of fans, and even some cynical members of the media that idiotically labeled Luck a quitter, asked and continue to reconcile with is, why would such a young man, who still had tens of millions of dollars remaining on a five-year, $122 million contract he signed with the Colts in 2016, walk away from so much money and fame?

At an impromptu press conference held after the Colts’ 27-17 loss to the Bears, Luck succinctly and profoundly answered those questions. “This is not an easy decision. Honestly, it’s the hardest decision of my life. But it is the right decision for me,” he began. “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. The only way I see out is to no longer play football.

“I’ve been stuck in this process. I haven’t been able to live the life I want to live,” Luck continued. “It’s taken the joy out of the game, and after 2016, when I played in pain and was unable to regularly practice, I made a vow to myself that I would not go down that path again. I find myself in a similar situation and the only way forward for me is to remove myself from football and this cycle that I’ve been in.”

Like Luck, Rob Gronkowski, the future Hall of Fame tight end who turned 30 this past May, retired from the NFL this past winter at age 29 after winning his third Super Bowl with the New England Patriots. On Tuesday, Gronkowski was in New York City to announce he will be an advocate for the use of CBD (cannibas) based products by players to relieve pain. Typically gregarious, Gronkowski’s demeanor was decidedly serious and passionate in explaining his reasoning for leaving the playing field behind.

“I want to be clear to my fans. I needed to recover. I was not in a good place,” he said. “I got done with the game and I could barely walk… I was in tears in my bed after a Super Bowl victory. It didn’t make that much sense to me. And then, for four weeks, I couldn’t even sleep for more than 20 minutes a night. I was like, ‘Damn, this sucks.’ It didn’t feel good.”

This past weekend, while Luck was retiring, former NFL fullback La’Ron McClain, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, desperately pleaded for the NFL to help with the physical and emotional trauma he said he is experiencing.

“I have to get my head checked. … My brain is f—— tired. … i need some help with this s—,” McClain tweeted, attributing his issues to the constant physical contact of playing college football for powerhouse Alabama and then seven seasons in the NFL.

Luck, Gronkowski and many other former players are fortunate and wise enough to retire financially secure and relatively healthy. However, CTE, a neurodegenerative brain disease that was diagnosed in former stars Aaron Hernandez, Junior Seau and Dave Duerson, and perhaps was the primary cause of them committing suicide, cannot be detected until after death.

The fate of the latter three is all the more reason to applaud, and not deride, those who walk away from football too early rather than too late.