The sports world is filled with plenty of surprises, but the nature of the news cycle means there are few true shocks these days.
But shock is the best word to describe Saturday’s news that Colts star quarterback Andrew Luck is retiring a few weeks shy of his 30th birthday — the result of an accumulation of injuries sucking the joy out of the sport for him.
It’s tempting to declare that Luck will start a trend, but NFL stars retiring young is not a new thing. Jim Brown, Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson are good examples of others who did it at various points.
What’s not up for debate is this: NFL players in 2019 are as wealthy as they have been at any point in the sport’s history. They are as aware of the long-term health risks of football as they have ever been. They have the best nutrition, conditioning and medical equipment that has ever been available.
Add all that up, and they are as empowered as they have ever been, as a group, to make the decision to simply walk away. There’s a certain privilege to that decision that wasn’t afforded to previous generations of players, but that’s reality (particularly for a quarterback like Luck, who as the No. 1 overall pick in 2012 had already made $97 million by the time he decided to retire).
Even if they have a fierce capacity to compete, as Luck is said to have had, they don’t need football in the same way players did before them. They can feel their broken bodies and decide they’ve reached a threshold.
That sentiment should scare NFL owners, though probably not that much. It’s hard to imagine any sort of critical mass, even if retirements like Luck’s become more commonplace. Even the wealthiest and most successful athletes often want more, even if they know the risks.
But it does create a disparity between what fans think of an athlete’s reality and what the reality actually is. Then you get thousands of Colts fans booing Luck off the field as word spread of his retirement Saturday. They feel betrayal. Luck feels sadness, to be sure, but also liberation.
If he stays retired, he’ll never win a Super Bowl. But he also never has to work another day in his life — a life that could very well be extended by this decision.
If you think about it like that, what would you do?
• The curse of small sample sizes had Twins outfielder Jake Cave sitting on a .198 batting average and .612 OPS less than three weeks ago. Fans were convinced he was a waste of a roster spot, even as the Twins had few other options.
The curse of small sample sizes is also the beauty of them, though. Cave has 17 hits in 34 at bats (.500) since then, pushing his season average to .280 and his OPS to .845 — better than that of heralded rookie Luis Arraez (.841).
• Timberwolves President Gersson Rosas made the rounds at the State Fair a few days ago, and while nothing he said was really earth-shattering, he did continue one interesting offseason development: drawing a clear line between established star Karl-Anthony Towns and underachieving wing Andrew Wiggins, two players who had been mentioned frequently in tandem in the past.
“Andrew in particular with his talent and physical abilities, the potential he’s shows, we’ve got to get that on a more consistent basis,” Rosas said.