Photo by Dave Adamson on Unsplash

I watched ESPN and the scroll at the bottom of the screen turned red. That’s always an indication of a big story.

Like all NFL fans, I was surprised by the news of Andrew Luck’s retirement. Surprised, but not shocked.

The Indianapolis Colts’ quarterback had been struggling throughout the off-season with a lower leg injury. In 2018, he earned the Comeback Player of the Year Award after missing the entire 2017 season rehabbing a torn labrum in his shoulder.

Before that, Luck had suffered many football injuries including a lacerated kidney. That would have been enough to force my retirement, As much as I love football, risking my internal organs seems like a step too far.

Luck intended to announce his decision the next day at a press conference. However, news of his retirement leaked during a preseason home game. A murmur rippled through the crowd. Stunned fans didn’t know what to make of the rumor. Was this a Twitter gag? Some unfounded gossip? Fake news?

The cameras captured one fan in a Luck jersey with his head in his hands, and another one taking off his number 12 jersey in apparent disgust. After the game as the Colts walked to their locker room, the fans booed their hitherto beloved quarterback.

Luck spoke to the press after the game. He lamented that the constant cycle of injury, pain, and rehab had worn him down mentally. This was not the life he wanted to live, and so he decided to step away from the game he loved.

People struggled to make sense of Luck’s decision. One sports talk host (whose job is to provoke people) tweeted that Luck’s unwillingness to force his body to rehab was “the most millennial thing ever.” Others, including Hall of Fame inductee Troy Aikman, rightfully criticized that comment as ill-informed, selfish, and foolish.

Watching football has become increasingly difficult for me to justify. A significant body of research indicates a link between football and lifelong health issues— including significant brain trauma such as CTE.

I feel like sitting through an NFL game is about one step removed from watching ancient gladiatorial battles.

Many early Christian leaders opposed the ancient games on theological grounds. In Book 6 of his Confessions, St. Augustine railed against the violent spectacle as “cruel and murderous shows.” Writing of his friend who attended the contests, Augustine lamented, “For, as soon as he saw the blood, he drank in with it a savage temper, and he did not turn away, but fixed his eyes on the bloody pastime, unwittingly drinking in the madness — delighted with the wicked contest and drunk with blood lust.”

It’s difficult not to see this as football fans.

The gladiatorial games finally ended in the year 404 after a monk by the name of Telemachus attempted to stop a contest in a Roman amphitheater. The crowd became so incensed that they stoned Telemachus to death. Moved by this sacrifice, Emperor Honorius banned all gladiatorial battles.

Someone running onto a football field to disrupt an NFL game in hopes of stopping the clash might suffer the same end as Telemachus, but the game would likely continue after a short commercial break.

Andrew Luck announced that he was unwilling to force his body, mind, and spirit to suffer through the process of injury, pain, and rehab again.

Although I’ve never played professional football, I sympathize with Andrew Luck. Why force yourself to experience the severe injuries required to remain on an NFL roster?

He has an architecture degree from Stanford and has earned nearly $100,000,000 in salary, not counting endorsements. Andrew can do whatever he wants.

Part of me, though, envies Andrew Luck. Like him, my chronic pain forced me to retire from the profession I love. For me, it was teaching. I wrestled with my decision like he did. My mind wanted to continue, but my body would not cooperate.

Also like Andrew, I cried on my last day.

He has the option of staying in the football industry. Any pro or college team would hire him for their coaching staff. I’m also certain that television networks are speaking with his agent in hopes of turning him into the next Tony Romo.

Unlike Andrew, I cannot remain in the classroom. Due to an incurable neurological disorder called erythromelalgia, I deal with the burning, tingling, and aching in my extremities, especially my feet, legs, and ears.

I ypically spend about 20 hours of every day with my legs elevated because standing and sitting can produce unbearable flare-ups. The relentless pain has become my constant companion greeting me in the morning, accompanying me in the afternoon, and keeping me awake throughout the night.

Just last night, I was awake until after 4:30 A.M. with torturous burning and tingling in my left foot.

Millions of people suffer with chronic pain. Some diseases — including rheumatoid arthritis, migraines, and diabetic nerve pain — are familiar to many people. Others — such as ankylosing spondylitis, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and Sjogren’s Syndrome — are less well known.

If you (or a loved one) suffer from chronic pain, you know there is no escape. You live with the pain forever. You probably have undergone several therapy options and currently take multiple medications just to keep the pain at bay.

I hope that Andrew finds relief for his pain and that it does not develop into a chronic condition such as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.

More than that, I hope that people without chronic pain show some understanding to those living with it. Don’t be like the fans and critics who jeered Andrew Luck. Imagine being incarcerated in a prison of pain, and treat others who experience that life sentence with humanity and compassion.

A former elementary educator with a physical disability. @disabledsaints

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