Helderop: For millennials, more to life than football

Brandon Helderop
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The talk of the National Football League these days is the recent flurry of early retirements. Just this month, close to a handful of talented players have hung up their cleats despite being in the prime of their careers or having years of productivity remaining.

First up, 30-year-old linebacker Patrick Willis. In his retirement press conference, Willis cited future health as the chief reason, saying, “Honestly, I pay attention to guys when they’re finished playing, walking around like they’ve got no hips and they can’t play with their kids. … For me, there’s more to my life than football.”

The next announcement came from 26-year-old quarterback Jake Locker. In a statement released by Locker, he pointed to no longer having the “burning desire necessary to play the game for a living.”

Less than 24 hours later, enter 27-year-old linebacker Jason Worilds, formerly of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Worilds’ decision shocked many as he had been on an upward trajectory and was expected to cash in to the tune of potentially $15 million guaranteed, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.

Two days later, University of Michigan offensive lineman Jack Miller announced he would be foregoing his final year of eligibility to pursue business opportunities. After starting all twelve games in the 2014 season and winning the team’s award for best lineman of the year, Miller told reporters, “Football has just run its course for me…I’m not crazy-passionate about it anymore, and this game requires a burning desire to play. Therefore, I think it’s time for me to move into the next stage of my life.”

Finally, 24-year-old linebacker Chris Borland, one of the top rookies in the NFL last season, became the second 49er to call it quits in a week. Following Willis’ retirement announcement, Borland was expected to replace Willis in the 49ers’ starting lineup. Instead, just a week later he was hanging it up citing potential health concerns, specifically the effects of head injuries.

While health concerns appear to be a prominent, recurring reason for players retiring early, could there be more to it? Each of the players mentioned are millennials. This is a generation that loves to disrupt and have garnered a reputation for their disruption within the workplace. Articles are written daily about how millennials are challenging and rewriting corporate values. We ought to take into consideration how this mindset and reputation translates to the NFL today.

Millennials tend to embrace life through seeking adventure and pursuing happiness over the status quo. Take Rashard Mendenhall, for example. The 26-year-old former running back retired from the NFL following last season. At the time, he penned an article for Huffington Post saying, “As for the question of what will I do now, with an entire life in front of me? I say to that, I will live. I plan to live in a way that I never have before, and that is freely, able to fully be me.”

Likewise, Jason Worilds mentioned a desire to do more work in his religion.

For years, those fortunate enough to play professional sports have played until they could go no longer. Just like millennials in corporate America who look at those who have gone before and do not like where they ended up, millennials in the NFL look at their predecessors and realize there is more to life than football. As the retirement announcements continue, maybe they shouldn’t surprise us. It is tough to blame them as they ride off into the sunset with their health, envious bank accounts and an endless number of adventures ahead of them.

Brandon Helderop writes for The Politics Blog.

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