The Carolina Panthers’ Luke Kuechly surprised NFL fans and players on Tuesday night when he announced his retirement at age 28.
“There’s only one way to play this game since I was a little kid — play fast, play physical and play strong,” Kuechly said in an emotional video posted to the Panthers Twitter account last night. “And at this point, I don’t know if I am able to do that anymore. That’s the part that is the most difficult.”
Kuechly, who was selected ninth overall in the 2012 NFL Draft, has spent all of his eight seasons with the Panthers. He won the Associated Press NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award during his first season in the league and helped the Panthers reach the Super Bowl in 2015.
While the celebrated linebacker admitted he still wanted to play in the NFL, Kuechly said he didn’t feel it was the “right decision.”
He said, “I thought about it for a long time. Now is an opportunity to step away with what’s going on here.”
Kuechly did not specify the reason he decided to walk away from the field, but as ESPN notes, he has had previous head injuries. Between 2015 and 2017, he missed seven games due to concussions.
“I think now is the right chance for me to move on,” Kuechly continued in the video. “It makes me sad because I love playing this game — I’ve played it since I was a kid. It’s my favorite thing in the world to do. The memories I have from this place and this organization and being on the field with these guys — they’ll never go away.”
“In my heart, I know it’s the right thing to do.” pic.twitter.com/mSDyJ0iEMw— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) January 15, 2020
Players from around the league immediately sent their well wishes to Kuechly after he made the unexpected announcement.
“Words can’t describe who Luke Kuechly is as a person, friend, and teammate,” wrote Panthers player Greg Olsen. “We have shared countless memories together both on the field and away from it. I feel honored to be his friend and I’ll always appreciate the impact he has had on my life. Love you buddy.”
“Incredible player and person,” added Houston Texans star JJ Watt. “The game is going to miss you brother!”
Rob Gronkowski called Kuechly a “fearless player,” and had a little fun by asking him a question that he has heard many times throughout his own retirement.
“Congrats @LukeKuechly on early retirement,” Gronkowski tweeted. “Soooo…. when are you coming back??”
Kuechly becomes the latest in a group of young football players who have retired from the sport with seemingly years of playing time ahead of them. In just the last two years, both New England Patriots star Gronkowski and Indianapolis Colts starting quarterback Andrew Luck retired at 29.
Gronkowski later shared that he likely experienced 20 concussions during his career. The head injury has been linked to the frightening brain disease CTE, which has been diagnosed in many deceased professional football players. It can cause impulsive behavior, short-term memory loss, emotional instability and a slew of other physical and emotional symptoms.