The Least Dangerous Dozen: A Modest Proposal For NFL Player Safety

Whether or not it was concussions that led Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly to retire this month, it definitely was concern for his own health was behind the five-time All-Pro’s decision to call it a career. His farewell video made that clear.

“There’s only one way to play this game, since I was a little kid: it’s to play fast and to play physical and to play strong,” Kuechly said. “At this point, I don’t know if I’m able to do that anymore. That’s the part that’s most difficult, is I still want to play but I don’t think it’s the right decision.”

This was a 28-year-old player coming off a season in which he started all 16 games and made 144 tackles, fifth-most in the NFL and his highest total since leading the league with 153 in 2014. Kuechly was on the field for 96% of Carolina’s defensive snaps this season, and even recorded a safety for the first time in his career.

Of course, it’s the other kind of safety that is at the heart of Kuechly’s retirement – the kind that remains an issue the NFL can’t solve, because of the inherent danger of the sport. The league, though, might have a somewhat easier time dealing with that if it didn’t insist on highlighting the issue itself.

“It’s always odd when you hear player safety is (the NFL’s) biggest concern,” 49ers cornerback and NFLPA executive committee vice president Richard Sherman said this week. “They’re really standing up for player safety, player safety, player safety, but it seems like player safety has a price tag.… [Owners] think that players have a price tag on their health, and I don’t think we’re in the same ballpark in that regard. Players have been more aware of player safety and longevity and just life after football. The league kinda pretends that they’re interested in it, pretends that they care about it, makes all these rules, but then still proposes players to play an extra game. And not just 17 – they’re really just saying 17 so that they can get to 18. And so that’s two more opportunities for players to risk their bodies, to put their bodies on the line.”

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