NFL Superstar Retires at 31 After ‘Very Scary’ Near-Death Experience

NFL Superstar Retires at 31 After ‘Very Scary’ Near-Death Experience
Darren Waller #12 of the New York Giants on the sidelines during a pre-season football game against the Carolina Panthers at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, on Aug. 18, 2023. (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

New York Giants tight end Darren Waller has decided to hang up his jersey at the age of 31 after eight seasons, saying he had “amazing moments” playing football but his passion for the sport had “slowly been fading.”

“I’ve decided to retire from the game of football,” he wrote in a post via Instagram on June 9. “To God: what a journey, and thank you. We took it way farther than I ever could have imagined! So grateful for all the [people] I’ve been able to connect and create memories with along the way. We still got plenty more life left to live.”

The Giants had been waiting for Mr. Waller to decide whether he wanted to play this season. He had not attended the team’s off-season workouts and mandatory mini camp begins on June 11.

In a statement on June 10, the Giants wished the former team captain “nothing but the best,” saying the team has “great respect” for the veteran NFL star both “as a person and player.”

Near-Death Experience

In an 18-minute video on his YouTube channel, Mr. Waller went into more detail about what led to his retirement.

He explained that a recent near-death experience forced him to re-evaluate his life, saying a “very scary” medical situation played a major role in making his decision to step away from the game.

The NFL superstar said he suffered an injury when the Giants played the New York Jets on Oct. 29, 2023, forcing him to stay back for “rehab reasons” as the Giants played against the Las Vegas Raiders on Nov. 5.

During this time, Waller said he was on his way back home from New Jersey to shoot a music video when he started feeling ill and later began shivering excessively.

“On my way back to where I live, I started to feel like this fever coming on, and I’m like, ‘I’ve had COVID twice, kind of whooped me both times,’ so I’m like, ‘Alright, this is going to be round three,'” he said.

“By the time I pull into my parking garage at my condo and get out of the car, I’m like shaking pretty violently, uncontrollably, to where I was like, ‘This is a little weird, a little different. This one’s just going to be a little more difficult than before, I guess.'”

Thinking that he would feel fine the next day after a good night’s rest, Mr. Waller went to sleep but suddenly “couldn’t breathe” and “kept nodding off,” so he eventually called 911.

Mr. Waller said that despite thinking that he was talking clearly over the phone, paramedics struggled to comprehend him. However, he eventually managed to give them his address.

While waiting for emergency workers to arrive, Mr. Waller said he stumbled onto the couch panting for breath, and yelled “Help!” in between each breath hoping his neighbors would hear him and come to his aid.

“That fight kind of ensued. I don’t know how long the time was, it felt like forever … It was a very humbling, very scary event,” he said, noting the medical scare reminded him of a prior drug overdose.

“Just like the power plug being pulled and I just couldn’t breathe anymore,” recalled Mr. Waller, who has been open about previous struggles with addiction, as well as dealing with depression and anxiety.

Time for Self-Reflection

The footballer was hospitalized for more than three days, saying he could not stand, go to the bathroom, or feed himself during this time.

“It was an experience that would kinda sober somebody up and make them think, at least. And I say all that because I come out of that experience and I’m sitting in the hospital and I go back into my daily life, and I’m like, ‘It’s pretty clear I almost just lost my life,” Mr. Waller said.

“And I don’t know if I really feel like if I would’ve died that I would’ve felt great about how my life was going.”

Mr. Waller didn’t name the medical condition he experienced.

Drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the sixth round in 2015, Mr. Waller overcame early drug problems to establish himself as one of the NFL’s top tight ends. He was suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy and again for the 2017 season for a second violation of the policy.

“I’m eternally grateful for the game of football,” he said. “I wouldn’t be able to have this conversation or to think things through or be self-reflective if it wasn’t for an opportunity to save my life and go to rehab, which the NFL offered me.”

“They also gave me an opportunity to reestablish myself to come back into the world and do something productive, provide an example, be a leader, be a difference-maker in my craft, but also just in the day-to-day wherever I go.”

Mr. Waller, one of the highest-paid tight ends in the NFL, finished his career with 350 receptions for 4,124 yards receiving and scored 20 touchdowns in 86 games across eight seasons.

He played with the Ravens and Raiders before spending his final season with the Giants, who had acquired him in an off-season trade in March 2023.

Mr. Waller, who has dealt with hamstring issues the last three years, was limited to 12 games and had 52 catches for 552 yards and a touchdown in his only season with the Giants.

He was due to make $10.5 million in 2024 and count $14.1 million against the salary cap. With his retirement, the Giants save $11.6 million in cap money and take a $2.5 million hit in dead money.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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