There are moments in each of our lives where it comes time to decide whether or not you’ll be true to yourself, to the person you are and the life you want to live.
Most people don’t make decisions based solely on what they feel in their hearts. They take into account what others think about them and the vision others in their life have for them and who they are. They don’t choose themselves. They choose to live a life with more questions than answers. Of "what ifs" and what "could bes."
Andrew Luck is not most people.
The 29-year-old former Stanford star stunned the world Saturday when he retired from the NFL, citing his four-year struggle with injuries.
Immediately the criticism came, fast and hard from the worst parts of the internet.
Luck was “soft” and “not a competitor.” FOX Sports' Doug Gottlieb blamed the millennial frame of mind for Luck -- a generational talent -- stepping away from the Colts because “rehab was too hard.”
Colts fans booed Luck as he left the field following Indianapolis’ preseason game against the Bears. A decision they surely already regret.
Then Luck stood in front of the media, his coach, general manager and owner and opened himself up.
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) August 25, 2019
He explained how the injuries he’s sustained — a lacerated kidney that left him peeing blood, a torn labrum in his shoulder, at least one concussion, a partially torn abdomen, torn rib cartilage and the now mysterious ankle/calf injury — had robbed him of something he probably thought he’d never lose.
“For the last four years I’ve been in this cycle of injury, pain, rehab, injury, pain, rehab’” Luck said while getting choked up. “It’s been unceasing and unrelenting both in season and off. And the only way out I see is to no longer play football.
“It’s taken my joy of the game away. I’ve been stuck in this process. I haven’t been able to live the life I want to live ... I’ve come to the proverbial fork in the road and I told myself that if I ever did, I would choose me in a sense.”
Luck has always loved football, and while it outwardly defined him to the public, he never was just a football player.
In 2011, Luck stunned the football world by passing up being the No. 1 overall draft pick to return to Stanford, finish his degree and try to lead the Cardinal to a national championship.
Upon making his decision, his father, Oliver Luck, called the criticism of his son’s choice “a Rorschach test for people’s values systems.”
Those words ring true of his son’s decision to retire as well.
The criticism of Luck as “soft” and not wanting to work through his rehab comes from a sect of people who saw Luck show more courage behind that podium than he ever did while taking a beating on the gridiron. They know they couldn’t be as true themselves as Luck was.
For most of his conscious life, Luck loved football. He found joy in throwing passes to Chris Owusu and Zach Ertz at Stanford. He took pride in representing the city of Indianapolis. He loved Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton and said last season was the most fun he’s had on a field. He excelled at the game in a way few ever have.
Then he woke one day and found the thing that he loved so much no longer brought him joy, ecstasy or fulfillment. Instead, it brought him pain and anguish.
Luck showed introspection and vulnerability few are truly able to. He looked inside himself and decided it was time to stop hurting. Time to give himself to something else, whatever that may be. He saw a multitude of different paths his life could take from this point on and they didn’t include throwing a football or being pummeled to the ground.
Everyone has moments in their life where they are unhappy with their career, relationship, lifestyle or overall path in life. Where the thing they once poured their heart into has become toxic to their well being. They tell themselves they’ll change, cut ties with that thing or person and set their life on a course toward happiness and fulfillment.
But that’s easier said than done.
Those criticizing Luck know they lack the strength and courage to make that kind of choice. It’s easier to have an excuse for why you’re unhappy and give yourself a false hope that you could change it in a moment's notice. To step back and examine your life and dreams and tell yourself that should no longer be the path you walk -- that takes uncommon strength and bravery.
After the Colts beat the Titans to close the 2018 season and clinch a playoff berth, Luck met Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota at midfield — Mariota missed the game with a nerve issue he battled all season — and Luck offered him some words of encouragement.
“He kind of told me to keep fighting through it,” Mariota said, via Titans.com. “That it’s a journey and not to worry about the ups and downs and to just learn from it and get healthy as quickly as possible.”
Eight months later, Luck’s football journey ended with an emotional press conference at Lucas Oil Stadium. He no longer found joy in football and so he said goodbye. It was painful, but it also gave him great clarity.
He saw a vision for his life that didn’t include being in pain. He saw a better existence, one unburdened by the anguish the game he once loved has caused him.
No matter your place on Earth, everyone struggles with being able to cut out parts of their lives that have become toxic to their well being. The search for true happiness and fulfillment is a journey we all share.
I hope Andrew Luck finds it. I’ll be rooting for him.