The Perspective of Luck, or Lack Thereof
Many characters have been spread across the interwebs discussing tribalism in politics the last few years. As bad as that can be, and it is a hot mess right now, tribalism can be even worse in sports.
I love sports. I really do. Especially football. But like other things, I am at a stage in life where moderation calls for it to be kept in its proper place. That proper places often becomes “at arms length” not because of the sports, or teams, or events in the games, but because of the eco-system built around sports: the coverage, the sports media, the sports-industrial complex, and the fans.
Sports and politics have that in common. People absolutely lose their minds over it, and their basic life skills and humanity tend to go with it, all under the guise and excuse of “well, they are just passionate.”
Some folks are having a rough go at that life skills and basic humanity part with the news of Andrew Luck abruptly retiring from the NFL over the weekend.
Luck has been contemplating retirement for the past two weeks, as the pain on his ankle wasn’t subsiding. He felt “quite exhausted, quite tired” after the constant pain from the ankle injury, only two years after recurring shoulder pain cost him his 2017 season. Luck battled rib and shoulder issues for much of 2015 and 2016 before the shoulder injury. Luck returned in 2018 from the shoulder injury to throw for a career-high 4,593 yards with 39 touchdowns and 15 interceptions for a 98.7 passer rating.
“It’s been four years of this injury-pain rehab cycle, I can’t live the life I want to live moving forward … I feel quite exhausted and quite tired,” Luck said. “I know I am unable to pour my heart and soul into this position … and it’s sad, but I also have a lot of clarity in this.
“I’ve been stuck in this process. I haven’t been able to live the life I want to live. Taken the joy out of this game and after 2016 when I played in pain and was unable to regularly practice, I made a vow to myself that I would never go down that path again. I find myself in a similar situation and the only way for me is to remove myself from football and this cycle I’ve been in.
I’ve come to the proverbial fork in the road and I made the vow to myself that if I ever entered this situation again, I would choose the innocence.
For the uninitiated, up until Saturday night Andrew Luck was the quarterback for the National Football League’s Indianapolis Colts. Now let us pause to consider first and foremost the inherent duality of NFL football in America. It is the most popular sport in the country, and it is also the most popular TV show in the country. Those two things are inseparable, and any discussion of the NFL needs that basis of reality or things get sideways quickly. Quarterbacks are not just football players; they are the stars of a tv show, faces of billion-dollar franchises, multi-million dollar brands unto themselves, and 16 times a year — if healthy — they also happen to play a football game.
That perspective on who and what big-name players in the NFL are is crucial. If you are just a fan wearing a jersey and cheering on gameday it is sometimes easy to forget that the team that you so heavily invest in with time, money, and emotion is a business that doesn’t really care about you at all. For the League and owners it is a $46 Billion business, that would place it by some estimates somewhere between 200 and 35th on the Fortune 500 were it not considered a “trade union”. For the TV networks and supporting sports commentary business, it is the golden goose for ratings, clicks, and year-round content.
A business based on human beings doing violence to each other, with a large dose of emotion and tribalism that comes with sports, all worth billions of dollars to multiple industries. Easy to see where people lose perspective.
And then there are the Doug Gottliebs of the world.
Retiring cause rehabbing is “too hard” is the most millennial thing ever #AndrewLuck
— Doug Gottlieb (@GottliebShow) August 25, 2019
Stuff like that is why sports sometimes has to stay at arms length in my life. Just like I’ve very much choked down on what and from where I intake my political and current event news. In the past few years, I rarely spend any time or effort on “talk radio” or personality driven political shows, as it just skews the view of the world too much into whatever branding that particular talking head is profiting from. Maybe not totally unrelated, I’ve scaled my consumption of sports media way, way back also. There is the practical part, as you can only hear so many variations of the same thing so many times, but also the emotional part of not getting wrapped up in the minutiae of the days events that will be forgotten tomorrow.
Perspective is important when something as asinine as that Gottlieb take pops up. Doug Gottlieb hosts a radio show, so part of me can understand that he needs to stoke attention, and I get that hate view ratings and love view ratings both pay the same. But that perspective thing comes in handy at times like this. The trite, lazy, and frankly stupid trope of “millennials” as a synonym for lazy, or weak, or whatever is bad enough, but coming from Doug Gottlieb of all people is really something. If you were to play that game, it would go like this: Doug Gottlieb, Gen-Xer who was kicked out of Notre Dame for stolen credit card usage, became an eternal joke in basketball circles for entering a game with his shorts on backwards and proceeding to take them off and fix it on court, was ran off CBS’s Final Four coverage for what was, depending on your perspective, a really poor joke or worse.
But the great thing about perspective is you don’t have to do more than roll your eyes at that dumb tweet. Doug Gottlieb, despite the well-earned scorn and Twitter ratio he is earning from this comment, will be fine. He has a successful career despite his mistakes, appears to have a lovely family, and will be just fine come tomorrow.
Which is how folks should view Andrew Luck. He will be fine, having already earned generational-type wealth in his career. Hopefully his health and body recover to give him the physical peace he has been denied for years. The Stanford-educated Luck will have no shortage of opportunities in the future off the field. He recently married his long-time girlfriend and in June the couple announced they are expecting their first child. Somehow in the saga and shock of Luck’s decision making few have touched on the fact that one of the largest changes a person can go through, becoming a parent, is on a countdown clock in addition to all the football and health concerns he was dealing with. All the information we have, including Luck’s own words, is this was a decision for him, that was best for him, and had to be made by him.
All the rest of the noise is irrelevant. Some fans will scream about “loyalty” or “letting the team down” but they can all collectively have a seat and shut up. Most if not all of them, if suffering any one of the multiple injuries Luck has been dealing with, would not only not report for work but would be seeking and entitled to disability compensation. The guy who lost most of a season when he had to go to doctor after urinating blood the morning after a game, to discover he had among other injuries a lacerated kidney, doesn’t owe the fans a single thing. If you are so invested in a team that doesn’t care about you past the dollars you spend on it to berate a human being for making the same decision anyone else would make, that is a you problem. More than that, it isn’t just a sports problem, it is a perception problem, and a soul problem, when your chosen gladiator dares not to entertain you in the manner you see fit and it enrages you.
The Colts will still play football this season. Plenty of folks will discuss what maybe, possibly, could have been, but the game will go on. Andrew Luck will find his next chapter in life. Doug Gottlieb will eventually say something else controversial and ratio-worthy. Rage fan will find the next thing to rage about because once you dig the hole of being rage fan all you have is rage at a the bottom of a hole. The NFL and TV networks will continue to print money. Sports media and fans will continue to feed the machine with views, clicks, money spent, and hot takes given at various decibels.
Everything in its proper place. As it should be. If we could just keep some perspective on it all.