The reality of the likelihood of another injury was too much for Stephen Neal to stomach.
The 34-year-old Patriots right guard retired from the NFL on Wednesday, and he explained his injury concerns Thursday, detailing that he wanted to live a pain-free life with his wife, two daughters and one son. While Neal sounded disappointed that he was leaving the game, he was also excited to hang up the phone, clean the floors and do laundry at his home in San Diego.
"Talking to the doctors, trainers and coaches, realistically, there's a shot I can play, but it's not a very good shot," said Neal, who has dealt with multiple injuries to his right shoulder, including the one that ended his career in 2010. "If I get injured again, it's not going to be too good. I have a great family, and I want to be there for them. I want to be able to throw a ball better with my right hand than my left, which I'm working on right now. That's kind of what it comes down to. The decision needed to be made, so I figured this is the best time to do it."
Neal, a two-time NCAA national champion wrestler at Cal State Bakersfield, will ask the school's athletic director this weekend how he can help the program, which almost went defunct last year. He wants to continue promoting the sport in any way possible, particularly by raising money.
While Neal said he could have gutted through another season, he alluded to the fact that his shoulder would need to be completely reconstructed if he suffered another injury. And it sounded like a minor injury could have even turned into a major one in his case.
"The next injury will be significant, if there is another injury," Neal said. "That kind of scares you a little bit. I've been kind of limited the last four or five years. I just tried to do the best I can. I think we have a great group of guys who can go on and have great success. I'd love to stick around and watch the younger players develop. It's great being on a team with so much young talent. There's so much potential. You want to try to stick around for as long as you can, but realistically, it's really not fair to stick around when you can't pull your own weight.
"I have so much respect for coach [Bill] Belichick. I've always tried to put the team first in everything I've done, and I think the team will be better without me, so definitely, I think this is the time to step down. For my own health and my family, I think this is the best decision, also, to walk away with a little bit of life left in the body. Hopefully, I can get this shoulder rehabbed to a decent level and live the rest of my life pretty close to pain free. That's what I'm hoping for."