MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
In less than two weeks, the NFL will kick off its 100th season, but now it will do so without one of its biggest stars. Yesterday, the Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck shocked the football world by announcing his retirement at the age of 29. In an emotional press conference after the Colts' preseason loss to the Chicago Bears, Luck described why he came to the decision.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
ANDREW LUCK: I've been stuck in this process. I haven't been able to live the life I want to live - taking the joy out of this game. And after 2016, where 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.
MARTIN: News of the retirement was reported during last night's game, and Luck was booed by Colts fans as he walked off the field. We wanted to talk more about this, especially about what this retirement might mean for the game, so we've called on Dave Zirin. He is the sports editor for The Nation magazine and host of the "Edge Of Sports" podcast.
Dave, thanks for joining us once again.
DAVE ZIRIN: Oh, it's great to be here. Thank you.
MARTIN: So he's not the first player to retire in what might be considered his prime. But obviously, this retirement seems to be kind of hitting a lot of people. Why do you think that is? Like, what's the big deal here?
ZIRIN: Well, it's a big deal because it just doesn't happen to quarterbacks. Players do retire early, particularly over the last 10 years. But you haven't seen a quarterback in the National Football League retire in their 20s after a Pro Bowl season since 1952.
MARTIN: There are people who are criticizing his decision. We mention he was booed by fans last night. And, you know, some people questioned his toughness. For example, Dan Dakich of ESPN's Indianapolis affiliate said, you know, I have family working in steel mills, cops, teachers making far less, and this guy is tired my backside - questioning his toughness. But, you know, other people draw different conclusions. What do you think it means?
ZIRIN: Well, first of all, I think it means, like, a very - a huge existential fear for the National Football League - the idea that their biggest stars in their prime might consider walking away. I think for a lot of the fans who are booing, I think, shame on them. I mean, when you look at the list of injuries that Andrew Luck has faced in his 20s from a lacerated kidney to grade-A concussions, it's more than understandable why having just been recently married as well he might want to take the long view with regards to his life.
MARTIN: And I do want to note that on Twitter, a number of other fans or other people are expressing support for him, including other athletes, including other football players - I mean, saying, you know, he needs to do what's best for him, and he needs to do what's best for his family. But I wonder - you know, we're hearing all these other signs - like, for example, there are reports that fewer parents are letting their kids play at the...
MARTIN: ...At the youngest ages - that, you know, Pop Warner's seen a decrease in the number of kids coming out. Is there a bigger issue here that the league needs to address?
ZIRIN: Well, I don't think it is addressable. I mean, one of the things that the NFL Players Association, the union, always says is that we're the only industry that has a 100% injury rate beyond sports. And that's something more and more parents have become conscious of over the last 10, 20 years, particularly on the issue of concussions.
And when you think about somebody like Andrew Luck who comes from an upper-middle-class family, who has a degree from Stanford, I think this is particularly the kind of player who the NFL fears is going to be no longer part of the NFL family - someone who actually has life options and isn't just playing football because it's the only option out of poverty.
MARTIN: And before we let you go, is there anything else that you'd, you know, want to say about this? I do wonder whether there's - in the recent years, as the - more and more information has come out about the cost to the players and the cost to their bodies long-term, especially - even players who only play through college and don't go to the pros - a lot of fans have faced this as an ethical question for...
MARTIN: ...Themselves. And I wonder if there's something here as well that people should be thinking about.
ZIRIN: I would say that there are people who play football because they have to, and there are people who play football because they want to. And Andrew Luck has always been firmly in that second category. And so for him to say what he said - that because of injuries the actual fun has gone out of the game - that's what's really sending shockwaves throughout the NFL world.
MARTIN: That is sports journalist Dave Zirin.
Dave, thank you so much.
ZIRIN: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.