Advice from the Sports Ethicist: Is it okay for a pro athlete to quit in the middle of a game?

Former Bills cornerback Vontae Davis shockingly retired at halftime

Veteran NFL cornerback Vontae Davis shockingly retired at halftime during the Buffalo Bills–Los Angeles Chargers game on September 16, their defeat marking the second blowout loss that the Bills have faced this season.

Davis joined the Bills this past offseason, after five years as a member of the Indianapolis Colts and two seasons with the Miami Dolphins.

Davis cited his ailing physical health as the reason for his retirement, having undergone multiple corrective surgeries in order to keep himself playing. “I’m not feeling like myself,” Davis claimed, saying that he did not mean to disappoint his teammates, but felt the need to preserve his health by ending his playing career on the field.

His teammates, Lorenzo Alexander and Micah Hyde, called Davis’ actions “disrespectful,” while ex-football player and TV show host Shannon Sharpe commended Davis for respecting the game enough to exit with both his mental and physical abilities intact.

While it seems hard to fathom why a player would choose to quit in the middle of a game, I do see where both sides are coming from. It’s disrespectful to the teammates who are counting on your support, as well as to fans who have paid good money to come see players doing what they’re paid to do.

On the other hand, it’s always crushing when a pro athlete is injured, and it was probably a good move on Davis’ part to not play in the rest of the game. Having residual injuries and needing joint replacement surgeries later in life is a commonality for professional athletes, and Davis’ need to maintain his physical health is completely understandable.

But I think there could have been a much better way to approach retirement than the route Davis chose. There were so many other things that he could have done, least of all waiting until a timeout to announce his decision and sit on the bench for the rest of the game. No retirement decision is made lightly. Many an athlete have spoken about it when they knew it was time to retire — their bodies had been feeling slower and they weren’t able to keep up with the younger players on their teams.

Keeping this perspective in mind, it seems hard to believe that Davis’ decision was spur of the moment, and the Bills apparently had issues with Davis before his announcement.

The main conclusion to draw is that there are almost no circumstances that I can think of in which retiring in the middle of a game is an acceptable, moral, ethical, or respectful decision. As reported, no one knew before the game that Davis would make the decision to retire, and some of his teammates didn’t understand what had happened until after the game.

Hopefully, the Bills won’t let the loss of Davis prevent them from trying to come back from their blowout of a start to the 2018–2019 season.

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