When Luke Kuechly retired from the NFL in 2020 at age 28, he had played eight stellar years as a linebacker for the Carolina Panthers and sustained at least three documented injuries.
He joined other star players under the age of 30, including quarterback Andrew Luck and tight end Rob Gronkowski, who opted to leave pro football largely due to concerns about the long-term health effects of playing. (Gronkowski returned after one season.)
But Kuechly, 32, still maintains close ties to the sport, having served as a scout for his former team for one season and now coaching 12-year-olds soccer with former teammate Greg Olsen. have been
In a phone interview from his home in Charlotte, NC, Kuechly discussed watching current NFL players like Tua Tagovailoa suffer head injuries, whether he’s worried about his cognitive health, and how he cares for his players’ mothers. -What do you tell your father about the dangers of tackle football?
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
You visited Congress last month to discuss traumatic brain injury. What according to you was the level of awareness?
I think everyone understands the situation surrounding TBI and trauma to the head region. I think everybody understands that there are some things that can be done. But the more we can go out there and talk about it and point of view to look at it and different ways and little ways to help make a positive impact, I think the more we can Will be better
You joined the NFL in 2012, when awareness of concussions was changing dramatically. did you see the difference?
I think the NFL has a different microscope on everything, actually, in a positive way at times. There’s a very strict return to play policy, No. 1. No. 2, there are independent spotters in every game, in every stadium, and there are a number of people whose only job is to watch the game to see if anyone gets hit or behaves abnormally. So, I think the NFL has done a really good job of trying to keep players safe on the field and give them an opportunity to be safe even in their return to play.
You got hurt many times. Was it harder to deal with any of them than others?
You watch other people, you learn from other people, you talk to a lot of people – and this is what you hear: “Hey, let yourself get better. Once you get better, you’re there.” Can go back. So that’s what I learned, fortunately early on, from our trainers and our coaches and different doctors and guys that I played with who said it’s not like a sprained ankle where you just deal with it And recover from it and toughen it up.. It’s something where you have to be smart and understand that this is a different situation. You have to let it get better.
Do you think the culture of walking away from the game at a relatively young age has changed since you were in the NFL?
If you look back, Barry Sanders left just a few years ago. Calvin Johnson clearly shied away. Gronk walked away. I guess it happens to everyone at different times. [Sanders and Johnson both retired at 30. Gronkowski announced his first retirement at 29.]
You served as a scout for the Panthers in 2020. Why?
I love football, I love being around sports, I love being around people. And it was a good opportunity for me to really slowly step away from the team over the course of the year, but still be able to stick around and be around the game, be involved and have some impact. And obviously there’s quite a bit of structure involved, because we were out there every day working on different projects, checking waiver strings, looking at free agents.
I assume you have seen what happened to Tua Tagovailoa last year. Did it bother you a bit?
No, the biggest thing for me is that I just want people to be safe. I want people to have the opportunity to play the game they love for as long as possible. But I think everyone in the NFL understands that this is a violent sport. It’s physical, it’s hard. There are big strong guys running, and injuries are kind of inevitable. I want Tua to play as long as Tua wants, and I want her to play as safely as possible. But ultimately it’s just a sport: just big guys running fast, hitting hard, lifting weights. Things happen very fast there.
A study was published last week It looked not only at the number of hits players had during their careers, but also at their cumulative impact. Are you concerned about your long-term cognitive health?
I’m not worried about it, but I am very aware of it. I’ve read a lot since I finished playing. I have done a lot of homework. I have talked to many people. I’m not anxious about it, but I’m very aware of, “Hey, there are things you can do that will be beneficial as well as you can take advantage of.”
I think the biggest thing for me is a healthy lifestyle. Eat well, sleep well, exercise, be outside, have good relationships with people. Keep your mind active.
When you’re coaching, what do you say to parents who are concerned about the safety of the sport?
I tell a lot of people: “Hey, you do what you think is best for your child. You are their parent. You ultimately know what’s best for them.” I just talk about the positives, whether it’s what I’ve learned about toughness, how to fight through things, how to build relationships, through sports I The people I’ve met, the experiences I’ve had with the game.