Whether it’s an injury or diminished skills, athletes are eventually forced to retire.
The daily grind and wear-and-tear to their bodies catch up to even the best-conditioned athletes.
In fact, it’s actually rare that a player is in a position where they decide for themselves that they are hanging up their cleats.
However, there are exceptions to the rule.
Case in point, Antonio Brown.
Brown decided to leave his Tampa Bay Buccaneers teammates short-handed and exited Sunday’s game against the New York Jets while the game was still in progress.
The impetus for the departure was apparently a disagreement between Brown and Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians.
Arians had asked Brown to enter the game at one point and Brown told him he would not.
Brown later cited that he was nursing an injured ankle and didn’t think he could give 100 percent.
Arians did not see it that way.
The disagreement boiled over and Brown began shedding his shoulder pads and jersey.
Just talked to Bruce Arians who said he was trying to get AB to go into game & AB refused. Tried again Brown refused & Arians told him to get out. On if he saw AB take his jersey off.
“Yeah, I did. Never seen anything like it in all my years.” @NFLonFOX
— Jay Glazer (@JayGlazer) January 2, 2022
He then removed his undershirt and threw it into the New York crowd.
Finally, Brown walked across the end zone opposite the game action and waved his arms to the crowd.
— Miller (@mmmmillah) January 2, 2022
That marked the end of his time in Tampa.
Not The First Time
Remarkably, this was not the first time that an NFL player has walked away from his career during a game.
On September 16, 2018, Buffalo Bills corner Vontae Davis actually retired during the middle of a game.
Davis was in his first year as a Bill after a stellar nine-year career with Miami and Indianapolis.
He had been a two-time Pro Bowler with the Colts and Buffalo had signed Davis to add veteran help.
Everything seemed fine in the days leading up to the Bills game with the Los Angeles Chargers
In fact, on the morning of the game, Davis went through his normal routine and was ready to face the Chargers.
Not long into the contest, Davis made a drive-killing tackle on Chargers running back Melvin Gordon.
He celebrated with his teammates then returned to the Buffalo bench.
As the first half continued, Los Angeles began picking up steam and eventually scored four touchdowns.
With a few minutes remaining in the second quarter, Davis realized he didn’t want to play football anymore.
He wasn’t injured and he felt fine.
Without warning, Davis walked over to his defensive coordinator and said, “I’m done.”
The coordinator was confused as to what Davis meant, then watched as Davis walked toward the locker room.
— 80HDBroker (@80_daddy) January 3, 2022
A Buffalo team chaplain went with Davis to make sure he was okay.
When he returned to the empty locker room, Davis texted his wife (who was present at the game) that he was retiring.
Davis then texted his brother, former Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis, that he was retiring.
Despite initial confusion, both Davis’ brother and wife were supportive of Vontae.
In the aftermath, teammates, friends, coaches, and the media assumed that there was a specific reason Davis left the game so abruptly.
They were incorrect.
“Most people, when I did what I did, they thought I was literally going insane or something,” he said. “But I was actually fine. I was totally fine.”
In fact, Davis felt good about the decision and never looked back.
“I feel free like a bird,” he said.
What’s Next For Brown?
While similar in exit, Brown’s situation isn’t quite like Davis’.
Brown has a history of truculent behavior.
He has played (in some cases, briefly) with Pittsburgh, the Raiders, New England, and Tampa Bay.
Initially, Arians had no intention of signing Brown, believing he would be a distraction.
However, after acquiescing, the team signed him for 2020.
Brown then had a solid 2020, complete with five receptions and a touchdown in Super Bowl LV.
That led the Bucs to re-sign him for this season.
Brown missed several games this season due to COVID and then for falsifying his vaccination status.
With his latest incident, it should be safe to say that Brown is finished in the NFL, entirely of his own doing.
Stranger things have happened (see: Josh Gordon), but, for now, both Brown and Davis will forever be synonymous with their unique departure from the NFL.