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NFL Still Reeling From Andrew Luck's Retirement Announcement At Age 29

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

All right. It is Monday, but the NFL is still stunned by Saturday's news. Andrew Luck, the star quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts, is retiring at the age of 29. Just seven years ago, he was drafted No. 1 overall. He was seen as a can't-miss prospect and the future of the league. Drew Magary of Deadspin says Luck's retirement may now be the start of more stars leaving the game while they're still young and relatively healthy. Magary joins me now via Skype.

Hey there.

DREW MAGARY: Hey. How's it going?

CHANG: Good. Thanks for joining us. I want to get to what Luck's retirement means in a second, but why did he decide to leave the game at such a relatively young age?

MAGARY: Well, he was someone who had suffered through serious injuries in the past. He had a serious shoulder problem that kept him out really an entire year. And then he had a great season last season coming back. And it seemed as if he was all set to go for this coming season, that he was past sort of his chronic nagging injuries. But then something popped up in his calf.

And I think the prospect of him going through the whole process of rehab and the whole self-doubt of whether or not he could ever play again or if he wanted - I think that weighed on him to the point where he decided it wasn't worth his while.

CHANG: Well, I mean, on top of all that, this is a guy who has who has - who is in kind of special circumstances, right? Like, he just - he graduated from Stanford. He studied architecture. He has other interests outside football. This is a man with other options, unlike a lot of other football players. So is it just easier for someone like Andrew Luck to be like, I'm going to quit?

MAGARY: Yes, it is absolutely easier for him to do that because he was so wealthy that he could essentially forego tens of millions in perspective salary down the pike because he was already set for life. There are guys farther down the roster can't quite afford to do that. And that's a serious indictment of the NFL itself, where, you know, they have to find people who feel that they have no choice but to play the game despite the dangers to it. Then, you know, we're boxing left.

CHANG: So Andrew Luck isn't the first star to retire young, right? But he is the first high-profile quarterback to retire this young without some catastrophic injury. And you just wrote that Andrew Luck could be the start of a big domino effect here. Do you really think other top players might follow his lead?

MAGARY: I think that he has opened the door in the sense that, in general, the reaction to his retirement was, I would say, favorable and sympathetic given that he already had given so much physically to the sport. Clearly, he felt he had no choice but to stop going forward with it. And so knowing that that reception is possible, even at this - with this timing...

CHANG: Yeah.

MAGARY: ...'Cause it's really, really awful timing.

CHANG: Less than two weeks before the start of the season, yeah.

MAGARY: Yeah. It's not good timing. You know, it says to other players who may be in a cushy spot - particularly high-profile players - that it is not a crime to walk away.

CHANG: So if what you predict turns out to be true, if this is the start of a trend, what can the NFL do to stop it?

MAGARY: They could cut down the number of regular season games. They could give all of their retired players free health care for life - right now it's, I believe, five years. And they could pay out their concussion settlement money the way they ought to pay it out because right now they are going out of their way to deny claims to former players who are dying and desperately, desperately need that money. So those are some of the basic things that they can do.

But the way that the NFL is set up, those, you know, it says a lot about the NFL that, you know, those suggestions are completely and utterly unworkable to the NFL owners. They would never agree to any of those things - ever.

CHANG: Drew Magary of Deadspin - thank you very much for joining us today.

MAGARY: You bet, you guys. Have a great day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.