Fans’ expectations of athletes are out of whack

Those who booed retiring Indianapolis Colt Andrew Luck should be ashamed of themselves. Athletes aren’t warriors created by central casting for our weekend enjoyment

Ken ReedToo many sports fans view athletes as robots designed to play games for their entertainment.

They sit in the stands or on their sofas, a cold beer in their hands, and yell at injured players for being “too soft” and “not tough enough.” They think jocks should just “suck it up” and get on the field and play. They apparently believe they know how much pain athletes are in and when they should be playing or not.

It’s such a shameful and selfish outlook – not only on sports but on life.

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck retired from the National Football League on Saturday night, fed up with a four-year cycle of injuries, pain and seemingly constant rehab.

Many Colts fans (hopefully, just a loud, inebriated minority) booed Luck as he left the field for the last time.

Former Seattle Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin reacted to the fan behaviour this way:

“How dare Luck not sacrifice his body for MY entertainment,” Baldwin tweeted. “Who cares if your shoulder is too messed up to pick up your child. Who cares if your knees are too messed up to play with your kids. Who cares about the quality of YOUR life, what about the quality of MY Sundays?”

The Luck these fans booed gave them numerous exciting memories during a short but elite-level playing career. Through six seasons only Dan Marino had more passing touchdowns and only Marino and Peyton Manning had more passing yards.

The Luck these fans booed once played through a lacerated kidney that left him peeing blood. He also suffered torn cartilage in two ribs, a partially torn abdomen, a torn labrum, at least one concussion and the calf/ankle injury that ultimately ended his career.

Luck gave 100 per cent effort every minute he was on the field. As fans, that’s all we can reasonably expect.

Given what we know today about the long-term debilitating residual effects of injuries on former football players, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which results from too many blows to the brain, it’s amazing that more players don’t leave the game early.

“I think it takes an enormous amount of courage, an immense amount of self-reflection and a lot of guts to do what he’s doing,” said Houston Texans’ all-pro defensive end J.J. Watt about Luck.

Nevertheless, Macho Football Fan wants more. Macho Football Fan wants to be entertained and feels personally affronted if a warrior he or she cheers for decides he wants more out of his life than pain and constant physical rehabilitation.

Macho Football Fan’s mentality is represented by sports talk show host Doug Gottlieb’s comments about Luck: “Retiring (be)cause rehabbing is ‘too hard’ is the most millennial thing ever #Andrew Luck.”

Former Dallas Cowboys great Troy Aikman had the perfect response to Gottlieb and all fans with this mentality:

“That’s total bullshit Doug,” Aikman tweeted. “What qualifies you to decide how someone should live their life? So you’re now the authority on what motivates Andrew Luck? And if his decisions don’t fit into what you think is best for him then you rip him?”

Athletes are human, not cartoon characters. They go through physical and emotional pain like the rest of us. They have families they love and futures to think about. They aren’t warriors created by central casting for our weekend enjoyment.

And like us, they have the freedom to start and end careers when they want.

If Andrew Luck wants to get on with the rest of his life and do more than take some more brutal beatings week in and week out, then more power to him.

Ken Reed is sports policy director for League of Fans (leagueoffans.org), a sports reform project. He is the author of The Sports Reformers, Ego vs. Soul in Sports, and How We Can Save Sports.

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