Increasingly more NFL players appear to be retiring from the league voluntarily and before they are forced out, presumably because of the mounting data showing long-term physical and cognitive damage associated with on-field play. This change in longevity of NFL players is quite fascinating, as for the first time in history more players are walking away from the game not because they have to, but instead because they want to in an attempt to secure a future of lifetime wellness.
Prior to this recent trend of voluntary retirement, NFL players were like most professional athletes in that they usually hung around the game as long as possible, only retiring when forced to because of diminished skills. While most players still think like this, it is becoming more clear that long-term effects of physical disability, cognitive impairment from concussions, and even premature death risks are prompting players to reassess their commitment to playing professional football.
Will this trend of players stepping away from football in their prime continue? Only time will tell, but never before have we seen so many players voluntarily step away from the game while still having “shelf life” to play. These early retirements might be due to new data revealing the grave dangers of football, or might be because players are seeing other players leave the game and no longer feel the stigma of not being “man enough” to continue playing. What we do know is the game has gotten significantly more physical in recent years, and seeing more guys decide to hang them up early really shouldn’t be all that surprising when you think about it.