The first reaction was shock.
Before anything else, before the millions upon millions of takes (both good and bad), your reaction to Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement on Saturday night was probably very similar to mine when the push notification crossed my phone.
Or some other exclamation of surprise.
The second surprise, to me, has been the reaction.
No, not that of the Colts fans who booed Luck as he walked off the field at halftime of the team’s exhibition game on Saturday, as the news was breaking. Not the predictable reactions of the knuckle-draggers and bloviators on the radio and on social media. Not even the reactions from the more progressive sports media members.
It’s the response of the fellow players had. I haven’t seen any players critical of the move. In fact, it feels like near universal support for his decision. There’s a sympathy and an empathy for Luck in what players are saying.
This is a surprise to me because it flies in the face of The Sport Ethic - the worldview held by elite athletes that has been a central part of this blog for years now.
There are two elements of The Sport Ethic at play here. The quotes here are from Hughes & Coakley’s seminal work on this.
- Athletes accept risks and pay through pain. “Athletes are expected to endure pressure, pain and fear without backing down from competitive challenges.”
- Athletes are dedicated to “the game” above all other things. “Athletes must love ‘the game’ and prove it by giving it top priority in their lives. They must have the proper attitude.”
Luck’s retirement flies on the face of these two elements of The Sport Ethic. Rather than play through the pain, he’s retiring. Rather than endure the pressure, pain and fear without backing down, he is moving on. His retirement suggests that he does not make football the top priority in his life.
What’s surprising is not just that he made a decision that contradicts the world view he and his colleagues have lived for most of their lives. What’s surprising is how many of them saw Luck make this contradictory decision and agree with it.
It suggests that, in football at least, there is an evolution happening in The Sport Ethic.