After the recent surprise announcement that Luke Kuechly has hung up his helmet, this brings up a big question. Where is the NFL going and where will this escalation in physical and mental demand stop?
The NFL injury protocol covers concussions in depth with better helmet protection. In recent years there has been focus on officiating the rule of ‘leading with the helmet’ and ‘concussion protocol’ and in their promotion of the league they have pushed the technology they have invested in to protect their players.
The ever-evolving Draft class
The last few draft classes of skill players have seen a rise in demand for strong players who can initiate and break contact be it from the back field or in the receiver positions.
DK Metcalf, drafted by the Seahawks as the 64th overall pick in the 2nd round, was praised pre-combine for his muscular physique. Saquon Barkley as the second overall pick for the New York Giants two years ago was a bruising running back with big legs and a strong runner.
The NFL franchises give longevity prime position over any other quality in a rookie. It becomes apparent why when you look at the recent retirements in the last 12 months.
The cruellest year in NFL History
This is not the first time Kuechly has been involved in conversations about leaving this power-dominating league. In 2016, there were rumours circling that the former Boston College LB was on the verge of quitting over concussion problems after suffering from a number of injuries during the first few seasons of his career.
Another unfortunate retirement is Andrew Luck, quarterback from the Indianapolis Colts. He suffered a “cycle of injuries” throughout his career . The injuries even “took the joy of this game away” from Luck, who retired at 29.
Finally, Rob Gronkowski, a powerhouse of a tight-end in both points of view, seemed to be going from strength to strength. This was brought to a halt when suddenly he retired after Super Bowl LIII despite winning his third ring.
In an interview later with CBS, he went into more detail of his reasons for stepping away. He was quoted saying, “I have had probably, about 20 concussions, and I can remember 5 blackout ones.” Gronkowski, 30, has played through many injuries throughout his illustrious career. In his last game for the New England Patriots he had “nearly a pint of blood drained”after the game due to “internal bleeding.”
The NFL, although protocols are showing focus on ‘player safety’, seem to not recognise psychological impacts on players injuries have. Luck and Kuechly both seemed to be affected by the toll the injuries have taken on their bodies.
The NFL has not commented on the pattern which has been forming with these retirements over the last couple of years. This will be a big opportunity for the NFL to reconsider the protection procedures, particularly for head injuries, although they have made strides in the past few years.