Britt McHenry: Luck, Gronkowski and courage – Sometimes the bravest thing you can do is walk away

Sometimes the bravest act any of us can commit is knowing when to walk away from a life-long dream and having the courage to do so.

To hell with what the critics say.

Andrew Luck, a 29-year-old quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts and Rob Gronkowski, a 30-year-old tight end for the New England Patriots epitomized the definition of dignity when they both retired from the sport. Gronkowski made his decision soon after the Patriots’ Super Bowl win, and Luck sent shock waves through NFL circles last weekend with what seemed to be an abrupt decision.


“I am going to retire.,” Luck said at a post-game press conference Saturday night. “This is not an easy decision. It's the hardest decision of my life. But it is the right decision for me."

Luck went onto detail the brutality of the injuries he sustained over the years.

“I'm in pain, I'm still in pain. It's been four years of this pain, rehab cycle,” he said. “It's a myriad of issues — calf strain, posterior ankle impingement, high ankle sprain. Part of my journey going forward will be figuring out how to feel better.”

What did Luck get in return for the blood, sweat and literal tears he gave to Colts fans? They booed him as he walked off the field. The iPhone touchpad warriors learned of his retirement before the game ended and a myriad of pundits sent their brave thumbs flying—criticizing Luck for being “too millennial” and “quitting.”

Did any one of those critics endure repeated hits from 300-pound men and suffer through a lacerated kidney that caused them to urinate blood? Because Luck did. Not one of those know-it-alls risked concussions and possible CTE damage every time they showed up to work.

Every single one of us, world-class athlete or not, should prioritize our well-being over the demands of others or even the rigid expectations we demand from ourselves. 

We all can talk about a game we love, regardless of whether we played it or not. I spent an entire career doing that in sports media. But not one of us should speak to the physical brutality and personal sacrifices intrinsic to something we’ll never fully understand.

Luck and Gronkowski are polar opposites in demeanor, career and resumes. But, they share one notable thing in common: Recent love loss for the game of football.

Guess what? That’s OK. It’s actually abnormal to dedicate yourself obsessively to a sport or career for 10, 20 years and ascertain the success Luck and Gronkowski did.

What is normal is tapping into your humanity to make a healthy life choice. Mental stability and family are two values that should be prioritized before the Lombardi trophies, Rolls Royces and million-dollar bank accounts. Besides, according to Spotrac, Luck has made a little over $97 million since he was drafted. He won’t be pinching pennies anytime soon.

On Tuesday, on the heels of Luck’s announcement, Gronkowski spoke to reporters about his decision to retire in March, “I needed to recover,” Gronkowski said, pushing back tears. I was not in a good place. Football was bringing me down, and I didn't like it. I was losing that joy in life.”

When it comes to world-class athletes, too often we demand Herculian physical performance and scoff at anything else. The proverbial fan, beer in tow, ignores the transgressions of many of the most popular players. As long as they can still perform on the field, eh, who cares about their sordid past—or at least some fans justify it as such.


Do fans really care? When these same players stop suiting up will fans and pundits who are so quick to criticize the durability of players, lend a helping hand?

The answer is no.

So why on earth should Luck, Gronkowski or any others for that matter, feel indebted to some cliche-Hollywood “for the love of the game” nonsense?

Every single one of us, world-class athlete or not, should prioritize our well-being over the demands of others or even the rigid expectations we demand from ourselves.


Leave the attention-starved radio hosts, or irrational fans, who never actually played a snap or lived a day in the same limelight to spew their nonsense. Because in the history books, we won’t care that Luck or Gronkowski retired early. We’ll remember what they brought to the game, to the joy they provided us, during every NFL season they battled on the field.

For their part, they’ll likely most remember the life they built away from football. And that’s… how it should be.