Being a professional athlete can be a grueling job, both mentally and physically.
That’s why so many athletes step away from the playing field when they are seemingly in the prime of their career, or at least when it seems there is still plenty left in the tank. Sometimes it’s due to the potential risk for serious injury, while other times it’s because an athlete’s body just can’t recover enough from a previous injury. Or, they’re just tired of the grind that comes every season.
It’s one of the few professions where you can retire at a young age. Most athletes have contracts with money that they are guaranteed regardless of injury or their playing status. Here are six Minnesota athletes who retired either far too young or with plenty left to play for.
Vikings offensive lineman Phil Loadholt is just 30 years old, but he decided Monday he’s stepping away from football for good. Loadholt, an anchor for the offensive line when healthy, missed all of the 2015 season after tearing his Achilles tendon in a preseason game. He’s missed 22 games the last two years due to injuries. He was drafted in second round in 2009 and spent all seven seasons in Minnesota.
In one of the more sad stories involving a Minnesota athlete, Kirby Puckett had to retire from baseball after 12 years with the Twins. He won two World Series titles with Minnesota, but woke up one morning in March of 1996 not being able to see out of his right eye. He was diagnosed with glaucoma and after three surgeries couldn’t restore his vision, he retired that July. Puckett suffered a massive stroke on March 5, 2006 and died the next day, eight days shy of turning 46. He was loved by Twins fans for his play on the field and charisma off it.
While he played 14 seasons in the NFL and eight with the Vikings, Randy Moss still had plenty left in the tank, at least he says, when he retired from football after the 2012 season. It was actually his second retirement after he pulled the plug on his football career in 2011, but decided to return in February of 2012. Moss was drafted by the Vikings in 1998 and quickly became one of the top wide receivers in the NFL. He holds NFL records for single-season touchdowns with 23 in 2007 and most touchdowns by a rookie with 17 in 1998. His 156 regular season touchdown catches ranks second all-time. His departure from football was more about attitude and the risk teams didn’t want to take bringing him into a locker room. His polarizing personality makes him a good fit as a TV analyst.
Robert Smith played eight NFL seasons with the Vikings but was in the prime of his career when he stepped away from the playing field after the 2000 season. He had finished a career-best season, running for more than 1,500 yards and seven touchdowns. Over eight seasons, Smith had more than 6,800 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns. He’s now a college football analyst for ESPN and has gone public in talking about his battle with alcoholism while he played for the Vikings.
The Timberwolves drafted Brandon Roy in 2006, but he was traded on draft night to Portland. He was named the NBA’s Rookie of the Year in 2007 and after five seasons with the Trail Blazers, he retired due to degeneration in both of his knees. After an operation, he joined the Timberwolves in 2012, but it didn’t last long. He only played five games before needing right knee surgery was waived by the Timberwolves and eventually retired.
Greg Jennings turns 33 in September and played 10 NFL seasons, largely with the Green Bay Packers. He announced earlier this week he is retiring from football. He spent the 2013 and 2014 seasons with the Vikings after signing as a free agent. In two seasons, he played in 31 games with 28 starts and had 127 catches for more than 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Vikings cut him after the 2014 season. Jennings caught just 19 passes with the Dolphins last year. While he could probably still play, most NFL franchises aren’t convinced. He’s turned his attention to working on his foundation, which benefits underprivileged kids and youth organizations.
These are just a few examples of athletes who have to or choose to step away from their careers when they were hoping to play far longer. It’s a good reminder to cherish and make the most of every moment, because you’ll never know when it could end.