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Vontae Davis Ends NFL Career By Walking Off Field During Halftime

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's not unusual to fantasize about quitting a job. It is unusual to actually do it, especially if you're an NFL star in the middle of a Sunday game. But that is what Vontae Davis of the Buffalo Bills did yesterday when he walked off the field at halftime against the LA Chargers. Davis told his coach he was retiring, and he left the stadium and possibly professional football for good.

ESPN reporter Mike Rodak covers the Bills. He was in the locker room after yesterday's game. He joins us now. Welcome to the show.

MIKE RODAK: Thank you.

CORNISH: So Vontae Davis actually released a statement after the game. People saw it today. And it said, quote, "I meant no disrespect to my teammates and coaches. But today on the field, reality hit me fast and hard. I shouldn't be out there anymore." What more do we know about why he left the sport?

RODAK: Well, it really seems as though he didn't feel physically capable of playing the game anymore. He did have a groin injury last season with the Colts that led to a pretty interesting situation where he was left home from a game. The Colts thought that he was OK to play, and Vontae Davis thought that he was too injured to play. And that eventually led to his release from the Colts. And it never really seemed like he fully got back to 100 percent health.

CORNISH: So reaction has been mixed. I want to give folks a sample of it, first from one of Davis' teammates, Lorenzo Alexander. And then what will follow that is a former player, Cris Carter, speaking on Fox.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LORENZO ALEXANDER: Pop Warner, high school, college, pros - never heard of it, never seen it. And it's just completely disrespectful to his teammates.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CRIS CARTER: So I do have a little bit of understanding. People will say, well, why didn't he wait till after the game? Well, someone can really get hurt.

CORNISH: So is that where the opinions have split basically, the idea that this was either totally disrespectful or kind of understandable?

RODAK: Exactly, yeah. I think it was the timing of his decision where he was doing it within a game when players were out there really in their minds fighting and trying to help one another get to a win. That was the biggest problem that I sensed in the locker room with the decision. Again, if it was something where it happened on a Monday or a Tuesday after a game where Vontae Davis announced his retirement, decided he didn't want to play anymore, I think players would respect that more than simply walking away while other guys were getting hurt and trying to win a game out in the field.

CORNISH: We have heard so many more players being outspoken about the toll the game takes on their bodies and on their minds specifically - right? - people talking about brain injuries. Is this another signal that they're worried?

RODAK: Exactly. I think that there was a lot of signs within Vontae Davis' statement that he put out on Sunday night that would suggest that, specifically saying that there's a warrior mentality around the NFL where players want to continue to fight until the end and scrap and claw for one another, potentially putting their bodies at risk. And in this case, he felt like it wasn't worth doing that.

CORNISH: So frankly, Cris Carter sounds right. (Laughter) I mean, maybe...

RODAK: Exactly.

CORNISH: ...Quitting in the middle of the game is not great. But a lot can happen, and the worst can happen.

RODAK: If Vontae Davis had waited until after the game or at some point this week to announce his retirement, I think that there would be a greater level of respect from his teammates. I think it was the timing that not only caused Vontae Davis to lose the respect of his teammates, but quite frankly, this is what he's going to follow him through the rest of his life. His NFL career might be defined by this one moment when people look back and remember him.

CORNISH: Mike Rodak covers the Buffalo Bills for ESPN. Thank you for sharing your reporting.

RODAK: Thank you very much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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