NFL fans recoiled in horror as they watched Tua Tagovailoa’s horrific injury unfold on Thursday Night Football. However, it wasn’t the first case of a concussion in the league. The NFL has a significant list of players who have retired due to head injuries.
Having a sport that is as contact-centric as American Football is always going to lead to injuries. You can’t escape that unfortunate reality. What is becoming increasingly apparent at present, though, is that the NFL’s concussion protocols still need work.
Investigations are underway with regard to Tagovailoa’s situation. Nobody knows why he was allowed to play when he appeared to suffer a cognitive issue as recently as last Sunday.
With that being said, any such future studies will be given the full support of the NFL, but it is too late for some of football’s concussion casualties.
Which five NFL stars saw their careers stolen from them due to concussions?
#5 Chris Borland (San Francisco 49ers)
Chris Borland’s retirement from the NFL in 2015 may have sparked a re-energized conversation about concussions within the league, not least because he retired after just one season.
Drafted in the third round by the San Francisco 49ers, Borland was set for a steady career as a professional. He would have earned millions of dollars, but gave it all up.
It’s unclear just how many concussions the linebacker suffered in the NFL, if any. He played a lot of games at a collegiate level and made the decision to retire after conducting his own research, as he told ESPN.
“From what I’ve researched and what I’ve experienced, I don’t think it’s worth the risk.”
#4 Kyle Fitts (Chicago Bears & Arizona Cardinals)
Linebackers tend to take some of the most regular head collisions in the NFL. Kyle Fitts was another outstanding defender who had to leave the game behind.
After playing football for 21 years, Fitts made the decision to leave the Arizona Cardinals and retire in April 2022. A multitude of concussions had taken their toll on the player.
Fitts’ final season in the league ended prematurely due to a serious concussion he suffered which forced him onto the Injured Reserve list.
After consulting with doctors and his family, he made the choice to leave the NFL behind at just 27.
#3 Jordan Reed (Washington Commanders & San Francisco 49ers)
Jordan Reed was a particularly worrying case for the NFL. The Pro Bowl tight end suffered as many of seven ‘documented’ concussions during his career before being forced to retire as a result.
In a pre-season game for the Washington Commanders, Reed took an almighty hit to the head from Keanu Neal and missed the first five games of the regular season with post-concussion symptoms.
With no end in sight for Reed’s symptoms, he was released by Washington.
Not to be deterred, the tight end signed a one-year deal with the 49ers, only to announce his retirement after the season due to concerns over his long-term health.
“I was feeling good about where I was at, but then I had some lingering effects and sought out professional help to get diagnosed. They told me it wasn’t a good idea to keep playing.”
Jordan Reed was just 30 years old.
#2 Ali Marpet (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
When Ali Marpet announced his retirement at the end of the 2021 season, many expected him to quickly return at the request of Tom Brady.
That didn’t happen. It’s now known that the offensive lineman retired from football because he had suffered numerous concussions and was worried about the impact it would have on his health.
A concussion suffered in 2020 is believed to be where the issues began for Marpet, as he missed three games at the time.
At age 29 and having earned a lot of money and won a Super Bowl, Ali Marpet got out while the going was still good.
He didn’t want to risk any further concussions, especially when he admitted he suffered some additional sub-concussive hits after his 2020 absence.
#1 Luke Kuechly (Carolina Panthers)
Luke Kuechly is undoubtedly the biggest NFL star to have ever cited concussions as his reason for retirement.
The Carolina Panthers defensive stalwart was arguably the best linebacker to play in the league since Ray Lewis and Lawrence Taylor.
He propelled a Panthers team to a Super Bowl, alongside Cam Newton, but he couldn’t get his hands on the Vince Lombardi trophy.
In retrospect, Kuechly’s retirement was as scary for fans as he was scary for quarterbacks.
With every moment of every game now televised, fans don’t miss a thing. As such, everyone saw Kuechly in tears while being carted off the field in a 2016 game against the New Orleans Saints.
After suffering a series of concussive blows throughout his career, including three documented ones in as many seasons between 2016 and 2019, Kuechly retired at just 28 years old.
He suggested that while he wanted to play on, he didn’t feel it was right. What makes Kuechly's case especially sad is the fact that he had been wearing a Q-Collar device in games since 2016. This was in order to help fellow and future professionals avoid concussions.
The device is designed to prevent brain injuries by restricting blood flow out of the head, and Kuechly continues to champion research and work done to help end concussion retirements like his.