The National Football League spends a lot of time attempting to convince children to play football and attempting to convince the rest of America that football is necessary to life. Whether it's the Football Is Family advert series -- engineered to convince white middle America that football is not only a hobby or a sport but some kind of unconquerable tribal identity -- or any number of Play 60 or Heads Up or whatever new branded concoction comes out of Park Avenue's laboratories, the message is primed, smoothed and ready for consumption.
For Rashean Mathis, although he might have made his living off the game, he wants to make sure his son will have no part in it. "I have time to brainwash him with golf."
Speaking of which, his retirement announcement came from the links down in Jacksonville.
Mathis leaves the game on top of a legacy that can be described as "pretty good." He'll be recognized as the Jaguars' career leader in interceptions and interceptions returned for touchdowns for some time, one would believe. He ranks among the top echelon of football players to come out of Bethune-Cookman, racking up 14 interceptions and four touchdowns in 12 games in the 2002 season.
But in 2015 the writing got put up on the wall real fast. Mathis got smacked in the head at some point during the Minnesota Vikings game in October. It's frustrating because you can't exactly point to when; you can look at when he got up holding his head after taking a strike from the crown of a helmet, or when he went to the locker room to be checked out for a concussion (and passed), or perhaps any number of smaller hits that may very well have caused the damage all the same. He then boarded a trans-Atlantic flight to England that saw his symptoms grow worse, but the Lions medical staff refused to diagnose this as a concussion. Instead, it showed up in the injury reports as "illness." He was sidelined for the Chiefs game and upon returning stateside he was finally diagnosed with a concussion, weeks after the fact.
That his symptoms lasted for that long should be a worrying sign to begin with; it never really went away either, seeing as Mathis eventually ended up on injured reserve still reeling from it. Nor is there some miracle cure that would have made Mathis better, ceased the damage the Vikings game caused, if he had been properly diagnosed anytime earlier in the process (although it would have certainly helped to soothe his pain).
It's not the first time that there's been confusion as to whether Mathis suffered a concussion wearing Honolulu blue. Back in 2013 Mathis took a blow during a Bears game that brought about fears of a concussion, although he would not develop any symptoms and was cleared to return. But these piled on top of physical injuries suffered in years past, multiple trips to the injury report for groin strains and broken fingers and a strained MCL, not to mention a season lost to a torn ACL.
He had already endured heartbreak and bad blood with Jacksonville, the team where he made his mark, when contract negotiations broke down and forced Mathis to take his talents to Detroit. He had to stop playing before family and friends in Florida, venturing 1000 miles to the north to continue his football career. It was clear he wasn't going to find a third stop; Detroit would be the last contract, a little more money put away to enjoy the life he had carved for himself out from football. When he re-signed with the Lions for two more years, he was already on the precipice of walking away.
So when the concussion came down and threatened his well-being, it's clear to see where his priorities would turn at last. The last year on that contract didn't matter as much and time on the IR provided him a clear outlook on the road ahead. He was one hell of an athlete to watch play the game, but that game became a necessity and injury became a burden. It's a cost-benefit analysis many in football are forced to make and one fans oft struggle to comprehend. It's certainly one Mathis hopes his son doesn't have to make.