The contact involved in playing professional sports is hard-hitting and leaves players battling significant injuries, especially in the NFL.
Over the years, the Carolina Panthers’ Luke Kuechly has an injury and concussion history which could spotlight why a number of players are retiring before age 30. That includes Kuechly, who officially made the announcement on Tuesday that he was retiring at the young age of 28.
Kuechly announces retirement, mentions physical aspect
It’s been quite a journey for linebacker Luke Kuechly as he first came to the league back in 2012. Carolina made him the No. 9 pick in 2012 after he opted out of his last year of college eligibility.
Over the course of his career, he’s played in 118 games and recorded 18 interceptions with one of those a touchdown. In addition, Kuechly tallied 690 solo tackles including 12.5 sacks along with nine fumble recoveries, one of which was for a touchdown. He also came up big during his team’s run to the Super Bowl. Kuechly was named to his seventh Pro Bowl this season.
However, all good things must come to an end, and on Tuesday, the shocking announcement arrived that the 28-year-old defensive star was calling it quits. That news arrives at the end of the season after Carolina failed to make the playoffs.
“Now is the right chance for me to move on,” Kuechly said in a video statement released on Carolina Panthers’ social media channels. Kuechly also admitted the decision made him sad based on playing the game since he was a young kid. He also touched upon the memories created behind the scenes, such as in the team meetings and locker room situations.
His decision to retire was a surprise for many. It also comes months after Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck made the surprising decision to retire. It’s also close to a year after Rob Gronkowski decided to hang up his cleats. They were several of the players to have retired before age 30 in the past five years as highlighted by ESPN.
Luck and Gronk both alluded to the toll that injuries were taking on them as part of wanting to move on. Many of the players are realizing the importance of being in reasonable health to enjoy their later years, rather than continuing to do damage to their bodies.
Kuechly did the same as Luck and Gronkowski during his retirement announcement. “There’s only one way to play this game since I was a little kid is to play fast, play physical, and play strong. At this point, I don’t know if I’m able to do that anymore,” he said as he fought tears. He also admitted, “Now is the right opportunity to move in a new direction.”
What is Luke Kuechly’s concussion and injury history?
Looking at Kuechly’s history with the Panthers, casual fans may notice he was steady and consistent in terms of playing. He played in all 16 games in five of his eight seasons. His lowest number of games played in a season was 10, with his second-lowest total at 13.
He put together a Hall of Fame-worthy career. However, he still dealt with and battled his share of concussions and injuries.
Kuechly didn’t miss his first game in his career until the 2015 season when he was knocked out of the season opener against Jacksonville with a concussion. That was the season in which he played in just 13 games.
That 2015 season was also the Panthers’ championship push as they made it past the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals to get to the Super Bowl. Kuechly was instrumental in all of those games including two interceptions for TDs against Seattle and Arizona.
However, his team fell to Denver in the Super Bowl. After the season, Kuechly needed surgery for a torn labrum in his left shoulder. Sources suggested that the Panthers linebacker played with the injury through the postseason.
It was the 2016 season when Kuechly played in his lowest total games (10). Due to a concussion in Week 11, he was out for the rest of the season. It’s also worth noting that the retirement discussion popped up in reports back then, but Kuechly said he was saving that for later down the road.
In October of 2017, he went into concussion protocol yet again as a precaution after seeming to suffer the third concussion in his career. Several weeks later, he returned after he cleared the protocol.
2018 brought a reported shoulder issue. He’d undergo offseason surgery in 2018 to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He’d eventually pass a physical and participated in all of his team’s regular-season games.
While that may not seem quite as extensive as other players in the league, it all takes its toll. With longtime players dealing with the serious effects of repeated concussions, no one can find fault in Kuechly doing what’s best for his own health by moving on.
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