Buffalo Bills cornerback Vontae Davis retired at halftime during a loss to the Chargers on Sunday. Walked away from the game, right in the middle of one. People on internet suckhole of Twitter divided into two camps on the matter.
- He quit on his team. The Team. TEAM!
- He just didn’t have it anymore, and that’s fine.
There’s a third consideration here. What Davis did is actually kind of awesome. It’s kind of the American dream for a lot of people, a working class fantasy, the chance to walk off your steady job that makes you miserable ... taking care to not just burn the bridge with your employer, but to napalm the shit out of that bridge on your way out the door, middle fingers waving, while your coworkers applaud.
Davis did not retire at halftime because he was fed up with working for the Bills. That’s what it looked like at the time to everyone but Davis and his coaches. Davis left the game because his body just couldn’t take it anymore.
From his official statement:
But today on the field, reality hit me fast and hard: I shouldn’t be out there anymore.
I meant no disrespect to my teammates and coaches. But I hold myself to a standard. Mentally, I always expect myself to play at a high level. But physically, I know today that isn’t possible, and I had an honest moment with myself. While I was on the field, I just didn’t feel right, and I told the coaches, ‘I’m not feeling like myself.’
Football requires a player to sacrifice his body, his long-term health. Because of that, you can’t fault a player for knowing when to walk away from it, whether that happens at age 41, 25, or at halftime in a one-sided loss to Philip Rivers and the Chargers.
And as awkward as it must have been for the rest of his Bills teammates and coaches, I have to put some respect on Davis’ name for recognizing that fact and being honest about it.
I also wondered: Do I want to keep sacrificing?
And truthfully, I do not because the season is long, and it’s more important for me and my family to walk away healthy than to willfully embrace the warrior mentality and limp away too late.
As the league continues to grapple with the health crisis faced by its players, the lesson from Davis about knowing when to ditch the “warrior mentality” and be honest about your body and the game — no matter what fans, owners, coaches, and teammates think — is just as important to players living longer, healthier lives as rule changes aimed at taking the most dangerous hits out of the sport.
But, again, let’s also not overlook the fact Davis recognized this very thing in the middle of a damn game and made his decision on the spot. That’s impressive as hell.
Health and safety aside, knowing when you have to bail and pulling the ripcord, timing be damned, takes commitment and brutal honesty. Most people will never get the chance to do that. Most people can’t afford to do that, which is what damn near started a riot in a crowded Buckhorn Bar when I watched Johnny Paycheck close with his opus, “Take this job and shove it,” during a show there a long, long time ago.
No experience feels the same as quitting a job, especially when you do it unexpectedly. It’s an act of self determination that comes around only rarely thanks to the constraints of society and cultural norms (and also a lot of bullshit with the Darwinistic programming of American capitalism).
We get trapped in jobs because of that. If it’s not the brutal financial reality most people face, then it’s something the mentality of not quitting whatever the cost ... or a combination of both.
Hence the fantasy of walking into the boss’ office, shouting “WU-TANG, MOTHER FUCKER!” and walking out the door. We want to do it because we can’t.
My point here isn’t to clamor for more union representation, sharper teeth for OSHA enforcement, a better social safety net or whether or not Davis was right or wrong leaving the game the way he did.
I just want to applaud Vontae Davis for living out the dream.