By: Bryce Wadsworth
Injuries are, and always have been a major factor in sports of all kinds. Obviously, they can be severely painful and have a massive impact on a team’s success throughout the season. However, the part that is not talked about nearly enough is the toll that an injury can have on an athlete’s mentally.
Andrew Luck was one of the most talented quarterbacks to come out of college since John Elway, and as a DIE HARD Colts fan I was absolutely thrilled when we selected him first overall in 2012. Also as a fan, I watched the man get beat up play after play, game after game, and year after year. In just 4 seasons as an NFL quarterback, Luck was sacked 156 times, or nearly 2.5 times a game. From all of those hits, Andrew suffered from the following injuries:
- Torn cartilage in 2 ribs & a torn abdomen
- Lacerated Kidney —> caused blood in his urine
- Torn Labrum —> on his throwing shoulder
- Calf/Ankle bone issues
None of those injuries sound fun right? What the average fan needs to understand is that injuries burn down your every-day will and determination to get back to normal. Every set back or every reoccurring issue tends to break you down more and more. Luck even had to sit out a year (2017) before returning last season, where he had a near MVP season.
However, when this bone issue in his ankle came up, the belief is that he didn’t want to keep putting his mind through the struggle of rehab/pushing his body and mind to the limit. Can you really blame him? Although he is incredibly talented and walked away from a lot of money, he made the right decision to retire from the game he loved.
See link below: Andrew Luck’s emotional press conference where he announces his retirement from footballhttps://www.colts.com/video/andrew-luck-announces-retirement
While Andrew’s retirement had been THE talk of sports leading up to the start of the (long awaited) NFL season, he is certainly not the only one who suffered from the physical and mental trauma of a sports injury process, only a voice for those misunderstood.
During my senior year in high school, I suffered from a dislocated elbow with multiple torn ligaments in my arm playing football. I was bed-ridden from the pain and swelling throughout my entire lower arm. Doctors told me that I would be done for the season and I would have to go through months of rehab to get full mobility in my arm again. As you could imagine, I was not in a good mental place.
I could not sleep at all, I sat in bed and ate all day, and I didn’t want to leave the house. There was absolutely zero amounts of motivation in me to do anything but lay in bed all hours of the day. “It’s all over”, I would think to myself, “there’s no point in trying”. Eventually, I had to go back to school and back to football practice to support the team, which made things even worse. I felt like everything I did was meaningless. My trip back to the practice field made me take on the feeling of guilt, as if me being hurt was letting the team down. If we lost a game, I saw it as my fault. I didn’t even want to go to any of them. I didn’t want to show my face anywhere.
Then, I started rehab. At first, I was reluctant to go, but eventually my mom dragged me in and I dealt with it. My PT was very nice and patient, however the exercises and stretches I had to put my swollen, immobilized arm through were excruciating. My arm was stiff and unable to move, but every day the therapist would massage, twist, and bend my arm every which way to get me to (near) full mobility and strength again. I gained some confidence and actually ended up working to get ahead of schedule, giving me an opportunity to play for the last three games of my senior football season.
Naturally, I was excited and ended up having the best high school game of my career with 10 tackles and 2.5 TFLs (on senior night nonetheless). After that game though, I never felt the same. I started to overthink, I babied my hurt arm, I play scared, and I was in my head. I started to make mental errors with my reads at linebacker. I would miss calls, checks, and easy tackles. This is when I decided I was done. In the past, I had always played through pulled hamstrings, hip flexers, sprained shoulder joints, a sciatic nerve pain in my lower back, and I suffered many concussions throughout my time as a football player. This major injury was what put me over the edge mentally. Over just three seasons as part of the varsity program, I suffered various injuries that wore down my mental health and willpower. The injuries and playing scared to get hurt both took away the fun for me.
Now this was just MY experience. Imagine what a collegiate or professional athlete would go through? They invest completely in the sport they play, and suffer dozens of injuries (of varying severities) throughout their entire lives. There are likely thousands or even millions of people who suffer from post-injury depressive symptoms, but are afraid to embrace it.
The important issue is this: injuries are mentally challenging. They have the ability to ruin your experience and enjoyment of playing your sport. For me, injuries took me away from the playing field, but it has given me the opportunity to find other things that I enjoy in life. I am now studying media studies in college and giving back to my community by coaching youth football (where I’m able to pass down my experiences to young children who aspire to be athletes).
Now, players like Andrew Luck and even Rob Gronkowski have the ability to enjoy their lives after football. Gronk has even started his own business venture, pairing with Abacus Health Products , who will help him produce a line of CBD medical products to help athletes recover from their professional sports injuries. Gronkowski himself was reported to have admitted to having over 20 concussions during his career in the NFL. The awareness drawn to the mental health issue among athletes by retiring players like Luck and Gronk have been massive.
I believe it is beyond important for people, especially the quick-to-judge sports fans, to see an athlete’s perspective when thinking about this subject. Pain is physically damaging, but the long term affects on mental health are much more drastic. Awareness needs to be raised. Thank you Andrew and Rob for your bravery in speaking out for those who may have been afraid of being judged.
Rob Gronkowski happily announces his partnership with Abacus Health Products, launching his post-football career. (image from: https://www.cnbc.com/2019/09/02/rob-gronkowski-on-cbd-his-biggest-money-splurge-and-mark-cuban.html )
Cook, Bob. “Andrew Luck’s Retirement Will Only Accelerate Youth Football’s Participation Decline.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 26 Aug. 2019, http://www.forbes.com/sites/bobcook/2019/08/25/andrew-lucks-retirement-will-only-accelerate-youth-footballs-participation-decline/#77fcebe45ec2.
Jr., Tom Huddleston. “Ex NFL Star Rob Gronkowski on CBD, His Biggest Money Splurge and Mark Cuban.” CNBC, CNBC, 2 Sept. 2019, http://www.cnbc.com/2019/09/02/rob-gronkowski-on-cbd-his-biggest-money-splurge-and-mark-cuban.html.
“Players.” Andrew Luck: Career Stats at NFL.com, 2019, http://www.nfl.com/player/andrewluck/2533031/careerstats.
Sullivan, Tyler. “Rob Gronkowski Announces next Chapter in Post-NFL Life, Addresses Potential Comeback.” CBSSports.com, 28 Aug. 2019, http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/rob-gronkowski-announces-next-chapter-in-post-nfl-life-addresses-potential-comeback/.