Gregory is a TIME senior writer.
When Buffalo Bills cornerback Vontae Davis took the highly unusual step of ending his NFL career at halftime of Buffalo’s 31-20 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, the predictable rebukes swarmed down on him. One columnist called him “selfish.” Another reporter labeled his decision “an unconscionable act.” Some of his teammates were understandably perturbed. Buffalo linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said Davis’ halftime retirement was “completely disrespectful to this teammates.”
Davis, who started the game for Buffalo, put on his street clothes at the half, and eventually left the stadium during the game. “Today on the field, reality hit me fast and hard,” Davis said in a statement, released after the game, confirming his retirement. “I shouldn’t be out there anymore.”
By trusting his gut on this one, however, Davis may have done his teammates a service. Too many things can go wrong in football under normal circumstances. If a player is distracted, his mind elsewhere, the consequences could be catastrophic.
Sure, Davis could have just asked out of the game due to its physical toll, and announced his retirement afterwards. Or at least taken a night to sleep on it. But there’s something authentic about Davis having what he termed an “honest moment” with himself, prioritizing his long-term health over his professional football career, and declining to just go through the motions. Davis, a 10-year veteran, was done with football. He knew it. Leave it behind and never look back.
So many people fantasize about saying “take this job and shove it.” Davis got to live that dream. But just because he’s an NFL player, he’s a pariah?
Over the years, NFL coaches, executives, players, media and fans have created a culture that equates professional football with the battlefield. Players with the “warrior mentality” are lionized: you must view your teammates as brothers in arms.
But some perspective is key. Davis didn’t go AWOL. He decided to stop playing a game. He also likely cost himself a hefty payday, as Buffalo can likely recoup most of the $5 million Davis was owed this season.
A year after making the playoffs for the first time in nearly two decades, the Bills are back to frustrating Buffalo’s irrationally loyal fans. The Baltimore Ravens wiped them out 47-3 in the season opener; in that game starting Bills QB Nathan Peterman turned in one of the uglier stat lines (5-18, 24 yards, 2 interceptions) you’ll ever see. The team’s now in the hands of promising, but unproven, rookie quarterback Josh Allen. The schedule does Buffalo no favors: the Bills face a couple of tough NFC North teams, the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers, over the next two weeks.
Buffalo has bigger problems to worry about than an aging, injured cornerback who wanted out. The Bills needs to move on from Vontae Davis. Just like Vontae Davis moved on from them.