When the Carolina Panthers revealed earlier this week that Cam Newton aggravated a foot injury he sustained in the preseason and his status for Week 3 was up in the air, right or wrong my mind immediately went to Andrew Luck. As of the writing of this article we don’t know how serious Cam’s foot injury is. It may just be a minor short-term issue, or it could be something more serious that requires yet another surgery followed by the mental and physical grind of rehab, a process which ultimately caused Luck to retire at 29.
Luck was quoted as saying “It’s been four years of this pain, rehab cycle. It’s a myriad of issues - calf strain, posterior ankle impingement, high ankle sprain. Part of my journey going forward will be figuring out how to feel better.”
An even stranger retirement than Luck’s was that of Vontae Davis who last year retired in the middle of a Week 2 game! ESPN reported Davis had just finished rehabbing from his third groin surgery when the following happened just before halftime: “His mind had finally caught up with his body. Mentally, he was finished. Most athletes who come to this realization have their ‘aha’ moment somewhere in private, but Davis’ was happening right there on the sideline. He felt scared and vulnerable, and he wasn’t sure what to do -- all he knew was that he couldn’t return to the field.” Vontae Davis had been a Pro Bowler in 2014 and 2015 and was just 30 years old when he literally walked away from the game.
When we look at Cam Newton’s injury history this new foot issue is the last thing he needs. Per Sports Injury Predictor, in the 2014 calendar year he had ankle surgery, broke a rib, then fractured two vertebrae in a car accident. In 2016 he suffered a concussion. In 2017 he underwent shoulder surgery. In 2018 Cam endured ligament and cartilage damage to his ankle but avoided surgery. In January 2019 he had a second shoulder surgery in less than two years. When he returned to the field in August, he injured his left foot in the one preseason game he appeared in.
There’s no way to sugarcoat it: That’s an absolutely brutal five year stretch.
Cam has been dealing with shoulder injuries almost nonstop since December 2016. Speaking from personal experience, that takes a physical and a mental toll. I’m in my mid-forties and regularly played basketball into my thirties then transitioned to tennis in my forties. As a weekend warrior I’ve ended up having surgeries on my back, my ankle, and two on my right shoulder. Each procedure required significant rehab and physical therapy and I can empathize with Andrew Luck. The injury-pain-surgery-rehab treadmill is mentally and physically taxing and can border on depressing when bodies don’t heal properly and the pain doesn’t fully go away.
As Cam enters his thirties he’s probably becoming more aware of what his body might feel like at 40. Or 50. Or 60. Will his shoulder always hurt when he plays catch with his kids? Will his ankle be arthritic when he chases his grandkids around the backyard in some future day? What’s to become of this new foot issue? And perhaps the biggest concern, what about his brain knowing he’s had at least one concussion that forced him to miss time? As perhaps the most physical quarterback in the NFL who takes as much or more contact than any other quarterback, how much of a long-term CTE risk is he exposing himself to?
Then throw in the fact he’s made over $100 million in salary, let alone his endorsements and other income, and at some point Cam has to ask himself when putting on the helmet just isn’t worth it anymore.
Now, I don’t know how serious Cam’s foot injury is. It might be nothing and I could be completely overreacting. I have no idea if Cam has ever entertained the thought of retirement. I have no clue if he feels less joy today playing football than he did in years past. What I do know is Cam Newton is a competitor and as long as his body is physically able to perform, he’s going to suit up and do everything in his power to lead the Panthers to victory.
Andrew Luck reminded us that when injuries pile up, every NFL player has to contemplate the quality of his post-football life. Cam Newton isn’t immune to this calculus. This isn’t a hot take. This isn’t click-bait. This is simply the reality of today’s NFL where players are all too aware of the long-term health risks associated with their profession.
Personally, I’m a huge Cam supporter and I hope he returns to something close to his 2015 form sooner than later. I don’t want him to retire. I want him to stay in Carolina his entire career and win at least one Super Bowl as a Panther. I think the possibility of Cam pulling an Andrew Luck and suddenly retiring is low, but at this point it’s a scenario that is no longer impossible.
How shocked would you be if Cam Newton retired within the next year?
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