GREENSBORO, N.C. — NFL fans and medical experts in the Triad are reacting to Carolina Panther's Luke Kuechly's announcement on Tuesday that he is retiring.
"In my heart I know it's the right thing to do. There's only one way to play this game since I was a little kid – play fast, play physical and play strong. And at this point I don't know if I am able to do that anymore," said the 28-year-old linebacker.
The star athlete said he is bowing out of football, a game he loves so much because he can no longer "play fast, play physical or play strong."
"I think now is the right chance for me to move on," Kuechly said. "It makes me sad because I love playing this game, I've played it since I was a kid. It's my favorite thing in the world to do. The memories I have from this place and this organization and being on the field with these guys – they'll never go away.
Kuechly has suffered three concussions during his career. Many believe those injuries may have led him to leave the NFL. By retiring early, Kuechly is leaving nearly $22 million on the table had he played through the next two seasons with the Panthers, according to Spotrac.
Kuechly's decision stunned football fans across the country and the Triad.
"Hearing about Luke Kuechly last night, I just wasn't expecting it. He is just a great guy and it's going to be hard not seeing him out there on Sundays, " said Chip Haas of Greensboro.
"Losing him was how the Patriots lost Gronkowski. He has to do what's right for him and his family, his body, he made the right choice, health overall wealth," said Tyler Verde, a freshman at UNCG.
"I was pretty surprised he was retiring at such a young age. I am afraid maybe It's a thing that we're going to see more often, a lot of health care concerns with the players so maybe the league is changing," said Aksel Berg an NFL fan who is visiting Greensboro from Denmark.
"I woke up and I was like Luke is gone, not my sacks, it was hurting, big hurting. He's 28, he's 28, why is he retiring at 28, it's crazy," said L.J Jones, a student at UNCG.
Medical experts familiar with some of the concerns Keuchly expressed in his announcement as well as the challenges of concussions say they are not surprised by his decision. They say to expect more young athletes to choose their health and well being over their successful careers if faced with similar challenges.
"I understand and I don't think you can fault him for whatever reason it is he has decided to step away from the game. Athletes today are a lot smarter and more in tune with their bodies. They are a lot more aware of injuries and what that means down the road," said Dr. Ryan Draper of Cone Health Sports Medicine.
"Years ago maybe you got your bell rung but you didn't recognize it as 'oh, that was a concussion that needed attention,' now it's completely different," added Dr. Draper.
"The best thing we can do at this time is to encourage conversations," said Dr. Christopher Rhea of the UNCG Department of Kinesiology.
Dr. Rhea himself also played football at a younger age and can relate to some of the concerns many athletes go through.
"It's not just the hits to the head. The head is connected to the rest of the body, and its the body blows that then reverberate to the head, those are all going to be factors," he added.
The experts also say the current crop of professional, amateur and youth athletes and their families are now more educated and aware about concussion, mental health issues as well as career alternatives.
With high profile athletes making their well being a priority, talking about these issues is becoming easier, the experts said.