Buffalo Bills cornerback Vontae Davis made waves when he abruptly retired during halftime of the Bills Week 2 game against the Los Angeles Chargers. According to Bills’ coach Sean McDermott, Davis “pulled himself out of the game.” He informed his coaches that he was “done” and no longer had a desire to play football. The 10-year NFL veteran then removed his gear, changed back into his street clothes and took it to the crib.
There was no beef with the coaching staff. Davis did not have a contract dispute. He hadn’t gotten into it with any teammates. He wasn’t injured. He simply decided that he was done.
“Reality hit me fast and hard,” Davis later wrote in a statement. “I shouldn’t be out there anymore.”
Fans and media roasted Davis’ decision. He was called selfish. He was called a terrible teammate. He was branded a coward. He owed his teammates more, many believed.
Nonsense. If Davis’ love and desire to play the sport had abandoned him, he did exactly what he needed to do.
Despite new rules that basically outlaw tackling quarterbacks, football is a physically taxing sport. It’s also a sport where an injury, contract dispute or even a political stance could instantly end a career. In fact, my three all-time favorite football players all had their careers end prematurely.
In 1991, the Raiders’ Bo Jackson suffered a career-ending hip injury during a playoff game against the Bengals. A remarkable two-sport athlete who also starred in the MLB, Jackson’s football career ended after just four seasons due to a dislocated hip.
A few years later in 1994, one of the most-talented wide receivers in league history had his career cut short due to injury. The Packers’ Sterling Sharpe had amassed over 1000 receiving in five of his first seven seasons in the league. He also earned five Pro Bowl selections.
Then, at the end of the ’94 season, he suffered stingers in two consecutive games. He was forced to undergo neck surgery and his career was over.
Lastly, in 1999, Barry Sanders, perhaps the greatest running back in NFL history, retired after 10 seasons. Sanders was coming off a season in which he rushed for 1,491 yards and was just one season removed from a season in which he became only the third player to eclipse 2,000 rushing yards in a single season.
However, Sanders was tired of losing. He attempted to force a trade. Teams trade away disgruntled players all the time. John Elway refused to play for the Baltimore Colts. Eli Manning refused to play for the San Diego Chargers. Marshall Faulk was dealt to the St. Louis Rams after the Indianapolis Colts refused to pay him top dollar.
The Lions? They refused to accommodate their star’s request. Sanders walked away from the field forever.
What do these players have to do with Vontae Davis? Davis wanted to control his own destiny. He did not want to end up being carted off the field like Jackson or Sharpe. He didn’t want to allow his team to dictate his future.
How many players have we witnessed who were released following an injury, only to get paid pennies on their non-guaranteed contracts? How many players have been forced to play through injuries in fear of landing on the waiver wire? How many players have kneeled during the national anthem only to get blackballed out of the league?
In all of those instances, people say it’s just business. When Davis eased on out of the New Era Field, suddenly it became all about “family” and “brotherhood.”
Once Davis realized that he was ready to go, he went.
“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,” Davis wrote.
People presumed that Davis had lost his marbles. He was walking away from millions of dollars and the fame that so many people covet. Maybe CTE began to creep in on the cornerback.
In reality, it seems that the opposite is true. Instead of running out on the field, playing half-heartedly and putting himself at risk for injury, Davis moved out of the way and let the players who wanted to be there take the field.
Davis appears to be as clear-headed as ever and at peace with the decision that earned him so much scorn and ridicule.
“The crazy thing is that people automatically assumed that something was wrong with me mentally,” Davis told Domonique Foxworth of The Undefeated. “I feel great. I haven’t felt like this in… well, in my whole life.”
Now, at just 30 years old, Davis has his entire life ahead of him. He walked away on his own terms, and his own two feet, that’s more than many pro athletes can say.
Follow Ishmael and In the Clutch on Twitter @ishcreates.