ESSAYS FROM WEST OF 98: PRIORITIES

By James M. Decker 

You might have seen over the weekend that Andrew Luck, star quarterback for the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, suddenly retired at the age of 29. This stunning news sent shockwaves through the sports world. He walked away, seemingly at the peak of a career that had Hall of Fame potential. He walked away from possible NFL and Super Bowl trophies. He forfeited $64 million remaining on his current contract and hundreds of millions more on future contracts. What was WRONG with this guy?

Actually, what was RIGHT with this guy? Luck had been struggled through injuries the last several years. In 2015, he played through a lacerated kidney and a torn abdominal muscle. A serious shoulder injury cost him the entire 2017 season and had threatened his career. He had suffered through rib, thumb, and ankle injuries. He was struggling with a calf injury that wouldn’t heal this year when he just called it quits. Over a year ago, Luck told a local Indianapolis reporter that if football ever stopped being fun, he’d retire. Saturday night, he concluded just that. When he spoke to the press, he explained that injuries had worn him down mentally and physically. He simply wanted to feel good and enjoy life. The only way he could do that was to walk away from football.

It’s hard to argue with that, right? Well, when Colts fans got wind of his retirement during the Colts’ preseason game, they booed Luck. A few commentators criticized Luck for not being “tough enough” (there are many things I could say about American society’s unhealthy obsession with proving “toughness” but that’s a conversation for a different day).

I’ve thought about this story a lot since Saturday night. I’ve followed Andrew Luck ever since he was in high school. At every level, he was a wunderkind. In high school, he was co-valedictorian of his class and a national top 100 football recruit. After re-writing the Stanford record books, finishing as runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, and being all but guaranteed as the #1 overall pick in the NFL draft, he went BACK to school for another year, so he could finish his architecture degree. NFL people said it was a bad decision. Yet, he finished runner-up for the Heisman again and was still the #1 overall pick. His early career NFL statistics were reminiscent of all-time greats like Dan Marino.

Yet, Andrew Luck didn’t NEED football at any point in his life. As a recruit, he eschewed blue-blood football programs and chose Stanford over other elite academic schools like Rice and Northwestern. At Stanford, on Fridays before a gameday, he was famously seen alone on campus, deep in concentration, studying not a playbook, but a textbook. His disliked press and media hype about himself, but if asked about a teammate or football Xs and Os or some academic topic, he would talk and talk. He congratulated opponents after big hits (even while they were picking him up off the ground) such that some opponents didn’t know how to react.

So when Andrew Luck retired, it should have been shocking only if you didn’t know anything about Andrew Luck. He was great at football, but football didn’t define him. Fans could boo, commentators could say he wasn’t tough. But when Andrew Luck looked at the choice between playing football or having an enjoyable life with new wife and baby on the way, it was never a doubt.

As I wrote last week, our lives are short and they pass by quickly. Using life for the right reasons, to glorify the right things, requires us to have the right priorities. Andrew Luck was clear about his priorities, so when he came to a fork in the road of his life, he had no trouble making that decision, even if millions of people couldn’t and wouldn’t understand his decision. His decision inspired me to think—how often do we think about our life priorities? I mean really, really think about them. And do our life decisions—career, personal, hobbies, whatever—match those priorities? If not, why not?

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James Decker is a lawyer, farmer, and mayor in Stamford, Texas, and the creator of the forthcoming “West of 98” podcast and website. He may be contacted through Facebook at facebook.com/james.decker. Listen to our podcast interview with James here.

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