Calvin Johnson was a wide receiver for the Detroit Lions of the NFL for eight season, from 2007 to 2015, and retired at the young age of 30. During this time, he was better know under his nickname ‘Megatron’ due to his supreme size and speed. In the 2012 NFL season, Johnson broke the all-time single season record for receiving yards with 1964. Despite signing a massive extension in 2012 for eight years and 132 million dollars, Johnson stepped away from the game in 2015. In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated Johnson discussed his career and the reason for ending it: his body. Johnson was never listed as having a concussion, but says he had at least one per season. Johnson would black out and see stars, but the NFL said he passed the concussion protocol, so he’d continue to play because “in the NFL that’s how you earn Employee of the Month”. Johnson had contemplated retiring prior to when he did, but he had been playing football his whole life, it was his career, and his identity.
The NFL has been long criticized for player safety, and concussions in particular. Research on retired NFL players has shown the permanent negative effects of these repetitive trauma can have on long term mental health and well-being. Johnson, along with fellow NFL all-star who retired young, Rob Gronkowski, have both been outspoken about their cannabis use and how it has helped them deal with injuries, depression, and how it has positively effected their lives post-retirement. Indeed, a separate study has shown that experiencing a life event that disrupts the pursuit of self-defining activities is associated with the symptoms of depression. It is important to question the circumstances that led to Calvin Johnson’s early retirement and the ending of what would have a Hall of Fame career.