Why Retiring Early, The Newest Trend In The NFL, Is Here To Stay
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Why Retiring Early, The Newest Trend In The NFL, Is Here To Stay

Players Are Choosing To Walk Away From Football Early In Their Careers To Protect Their Health

Why Retiring Early, The Newest Trend In The NFL, Is Here To Stay

Last week, after contemplating whether or not to try to continue to play through a nagging hip injury, Buffalo Bills wide receiver Percy Harvin informed the Bills that he was going to retire at the age of 27. He only played seven seasons in the NFL. Early retirements have become the newest trend in the NFL, and Harvin is just the most recent NFL player to walk away from football at a young age, during the prime of his career.

The NFL has been under much scrutiny throughout the last several years because many current and former players believe it failed to educate them about and protect them from concussions and other injuries during their playing days. Many former players, like Super Bowl-winning quarterback Jim McMahon, claim the NFL illegally administered powerful narcotics and other drugs to keep players on the field without regard for their long-term health. They also claim the NFL didn't educate them sufficiently about the risk of developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) from playing football.

After years of denying a link between playing NFL football and CTE, the NFL admitted last week that there is, in fact, a link between the two. This is due to the staggering number of blows to the head and concussions that NFL players will face over the course of their careers. The symptoms of CTE aren’t usually present until eight to 10 years after the trauma occurs, so it’s almost impossible to know if a player has or will have it while they’re still playing.

The list of high-profile players, who, since retiring from the game, have experienced memory loss, depression, dementia and suicidal thoughts, along with many other physical and mental health problems goes on and on- McMahon, Dave Duerson, Junior Seau, Steve McNair and Brett Favre to name a few. In 2015, the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University conducted a study on the brains of 94 deceased former NFL players who donated their brains to see if CTE was present. Boston University researchers found that 90 of the brains tested positive for CTE.

In the last few years, researchers have found more information about CTE and other major health problems associated with playing in the NFL, causing many players to decide that their long-term health is more important than playing football. Many players have chosen a path similar to Harvin’s.

Earlier this offseason, after putting together a spectacular career over nine NFL seasons, and coming off of six straight Pro Bowl selections, at 30 years old Calvin Johnson announced his retirement to the surprise of just about everyone who follows pro football. Johnson holds 15 NFL records and has a good chance at being elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

A year ago, seven-time Pro Bowler Patrick Willis retired and left almost $20 million on the table after seeing the toll that injuries were having on older players after their retirements. Following a great rookie season, 2-year-old Chris Borland was expected to fill the void Willis left in the San Francisco 49ers defense. A week after Willis retired, Borland followed suit because of concerns about the risk of potentially suffering brain damage from playing football.

These three players have helped to remove the stigma of retiring early. For some NFL players, football is just a game, and they believe they’re blessed with God-given talents that made them one of the best players of that game in the world. Those players play because they love the game, but many of them could easily retire, finish their degree, and live a long, healthy life after football.

When the risk of playing football endangers their future health, or they don’t love the game anymore, they choose to leave the sport behind. Those are your Chris Borlands and your Jake Lockers, who retire early and go on with their lives. Parents across America who are raising kids that don’t need football to get an education or have a good life are deciding to keep their sons from playing football. This is leading to declining participation in high school and Pop Warner football. So does that mean the end for the NFL and football is near? I don’t think so.

The NFL and football in general are safe because the NFL isn’t made up completely of guys who don’t need to play football to have a good life. Many NFL players would not have been able to go to college if not for scholarships awarded to them because of their athletic ability, so without football they would never get a chance to earn a college degree. They need the game to make their money. They need to play and earn that second NFL contract that can provide the money to buy a nice house and set up college funds for their own kids. They have to risk their future health to have a better life for themselves and their families. These players will always be around and will keep the NFL in business for the foreseeable future.

For the guys who don’t need football, it will be easier and more accepted as the years go on for them to leave the game earlier, or not ever start playing, in order to protect themselves from CTE and other future health problems. So, football fans, don’t be worried, the NFL is safe. But early retirements will become more common as players continue to become more educated about the risks of playing football and decide that playing a game for a living isn't worth a retirement full of pain and suffering.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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