As Andrew Luck faces criticism in some quarters for retiring abruptly rather than toughing out rehab from his laters injury, an NFL player who found far less fame and fortune in the NFL has offered a good story about why he understands Luck’s decision.
Rich Ohrnberger, an offensive lineman who played in the NFL from 2009 to 2014, wrote a long Twitter thread that explained why walking away is sometimes the only option.
“My final season was 2014, I was playing for the Chargers and I was a MESS,” Ohrnberger wrote. “I had been dealing with severe back pain for 2 years, and it was coming to a head. . . . My mornings began at 4:30AM crawling from my bed to the bathtub, my pregnant wife would help me get in the tub, and I would soak & stretch until I was able to walk. I’d then go to the facility and do exercises to strengthen my back, but the pain was unrelenting.
“It was determined that I would need spinal surgery, but I could continue playing as long as the symptoms were manageable. Throughout the season I received 5 or 6 epidural injections. Some were less than 2 weeks apart. I would constantly fantasize about that surgery. I wasn’t sleeping because I couldn’t find a comfortable position to alleviate the pain. I was miserable because of the pain. I was afraid because I wondered if the pain would ever go away but I kept playing. I didn’t want to let down my family, coaches, teammates, or myself.”
Ohrnberger badly injured his ankle later that season, and ended up on injured reserve. He had the back injury and started to get better, but no one signed him in free agency. He finally made the decision that he was retiring in a Detroit hotel lobby bar after a tryout with the Lions. The toll his career took on his body was significant.
“I’ve had both shoulders operated on, part of a clavicle bone removed, spent a season on IR due to a concussion, ruptured my MCL, and had back surgery. That’s the abbreviated list,” he wrote. “Football is about dealing with pain. It’s unavoidable. But it wears you down.”
With that experience, Ohrnberger understands why Luck chose to walk away, and doesn’t blame him a bit.