There’s a decent chance, and maybe even a good one, that you hadn’t heard of A.J. Tarpley until last week.
Well, now you have.
Tarpley, who last year signed with the Buffalo Bills as an undrafted free agent, has retired from the NFL after one season due to health concerns.
“After that fourth concussion happened midseason, I knew that it was something I’d have to think about after the year,” the 23-year-old said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “After the year completed, after all the games were done, I kind of just took a step back, took some time away from football, like everybody does, like every player does, and I just went about my business, just gathering info and gathering insight into my thing. I knew it was something that I had to look at. With concussions, there’s so much information. You have to look into so many factors. You have to look at the number of concussions, the timing relative to one another, relative to how early they are in your career. Not only that, but also how they were initiated. What led on to the concussion. Was it a freak play, a freak hit that just happened to knock you out? I just wanted to gather as much info as I could so I could make an educated decision for my future.”
Tarpley, who had just one concussion in five years at Stanford, has no regrets about walking away from the game.
“There’s going to be times when I’m going to miss football,” he said. “I don’t doubt that. I don’t doubt that when you’re out there watching the game, whether it be the Bills or somebody else, you think of what could have been. But at the same time, it was a decision I am at peace with. I did take months deliberating the decision. It’s something that you can’t look back on. If you spend your life looking back on any decision you make, you’ll always have regret. You’ll always feel down. Right now, I’m looking forward and looking to what’s next.”
Tarpley said that Bills coach Rex Ryan respected his decision to retire.
“He cares about his players,” Tarpley said. “It is a business, the NFL, but he cares about his players. He cares about their well-being. Me and him had the conversation and he obviously was shocked, as were most people. They didn’t know I was deliberating on this decision. But I have all the respect in the world for the guy, and he seemed to respect my decision and understood where I was coming from.”
Tarpley joins a growing list of players that have retired from the NFL in their 20s due to concussion concerns. He doesn’t think he’ll be the last player to do so, but he also doesn’t believe there will be a mass exodus of players.
“The more research that comes out, the more science that surrounds it, I think guys will look at themselves and their health and their futures and make that decision,” Tarpley said. “I don’t think it’s something that will affect football in a sense of it’ll make it go away or anything extreme like that. But the more research that comes out, and the more guys that take the time to look at what the personal goals are for their health and themselves, I think you might see something happen.”
Tarpley said he would allow his son, if he ever has one, to play football.
“I will,” he said. “I’ll just be honest with all the facts that I knew at that moment. Whether or not how soon, for how long, what risk he’s exposed to, the game has given me things in my life that I’ll never be able to repay. I’m at peace with my decision and I think that I couldn’t have gotten to where I am without football – and that’s not just speaking in terms of on the field, but also off the field. It helped me provide an opportunity for myself to earn an athletic scholarship and earn degree without racking up student debt. So I do think there’s a lot of good that comes out of it. In 20 years or however many years, if there’s more research that says, ‘Don’t start this soon, don’t continue after this much trauma,’ then it’s something that I’ll factor into the decision. But overall, I would not discourage my son from playing because of how much it has brought me and because of how much it brings so many people.”