On Sunday, Buffalo Bills cornerback Vontae Davis fulfilled a dream of unhappy workers everywhere by abruptly quitting from his job during the middle of a game. When the Bills were down by 28-6 at halftime to the Los Angeles Chargers, the 10-year veteran and former first-round pick made the unusual move of not only pulling himself out of the game, but retiring from the NFL entirely.
After the game, Davis released a lengthy, measured statement explaining that his choice, though sudden, had been a long time coming: “This isn’t how I pictured retiring from the NFL,” he said. Citing multiple surgeries and injuries he had endured, Davis said that on Sunday, he realized his body had taken enough: “Today on the field, reality hit me fast and hard: I shouldn’t be out there anymore.”
— NFL (@NFL) September 16, 2018
The abrupt exit stunned and angered his team, who were still playing, providing lessons on what to do when a job becomes untenable and you feel like you need to get out — now.
Con: Your team will not take it well
Quitting without giving any notice will always be a shock to certain disappointed colleagues. It may even lead to arguments that you are disrespecting them by bailing out and putting your needs above theirs.
By quitting during a game that the Bills were losing, his actions were seen as un-sportsmanlike by some of his teammates. “It’s just completely disrespectful to his teammates … He didn’t say nothing to nobody … I found out going into the second half of the game,” Buffalo linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. “They said he’s not coming out, he retired. That’s it.”
Others also gave Davis’ news a chilly reception. Days after the game, Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermot said that he has yet to speak to Davis about his retirement. “I didn’t feel a need. I’m focused on my team right now,” he said. The implication being: Davis does not deserve the respect of me acknowledging his choice and years of service to my sport.
Pro: You leave on your own terms
Disappointing your trusted colleagues never feels great, but if you are able to weather their grumpy reactions, you may find, as Davis did, that there is a freedom in choosing yourself first. For Davis, his concern about the safety of the game had outweighed the personal growth he was getting out of it.
Calling the decision “overwhelming,” Davis said that he had a moment on the field where he realized the physical toll the sport had taken on him, asking himself, “Do I want to keep sacrificing?”
He continued: “And truthfully, I do not because the season is long, and it’s more important for me and my family to walk away healthy than to willfully embrace the warrior mentality and limp away too late.”
Many players limp away too late. There is an increasing awareness of the connection between football concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. In an examination of the brains of 111 NFL players, all but one had the degenerative disease. Davis’ thoughtful response shows that he was particularly aware of the health sacrifices he was making, and was going to prioritize himself.
“This was an overwhelming decision, but I’m at peace with myself and my family,” Davis concluded. Too often, ego and pride keeps workers in jobs long past when they should leave. As organizational behavior professor Jeffrey Pfeffer has told Ladders, employers often prey upon employees’ egos to get them to stay: if you were really good at your job, they say, you would stick it out. It takes strength to shake off these toxic messages of warrior mentalities and face your own needs head-on.
Because despite what colleagues may pressure you to believe, only you can know you need to leave a job that is not valuing your health. And sometimes, that wake-up call happens in the middle of a football game.