When Jon Beason was healthy, there were few linebackers in the NFL who could match him.
But it has been a long time since Beason was healthy. After not missing a game in his first four seasons, Beason missed 51 games in his final five seasons.
He retired in February, and the former Carolina Panthers’ linebacker opened up to the Observer last week at a celebrity golf tournament about the decision.
“You want to play at such a high level. You go through the rehabs and you try to have some type of offseason workouts where when you are coming back from injury, that’s what you miss,” Beason said Thursday at the HoopTee Golf Classic. “Now you’re out there playing when, in my opinion, you earn the right to be a great player by being in great shape, being able to make that play over and over again.
“When you’re fatigued and physically weak, you can’t be that player anymore. I think it’s something that every athlete figures out and realizes.”
Several knee injuries in recent years mounted upon one another. He played in nine games in his final two seasons because of various injuries.
When recalling a talk with a doctor, Beason put his hand on a reporter’s shoulder like a father would when he’s sitting down his son for a talk.
“He’d say, ‘Based on what I see, you need to go ahead and hang it up,’” Beason recalled. “And it’s not so much that they didn’t want me to attempt or try again. It was just based on who you are, what you already accomplished, what’s it worth?”
The Panthers took Beason with the 25th overall pick in the 2007 draft, and he immediately became one of the best defensive players in the league.
He went to three straight Pro Bowls from 2008-2010 and made the All-Pro teams twice during that span.
Then came the injuries. First, it was an Achilles tear in the first game of the 2011 season that sidelined him the rest of the year.
The knee troubles came the following year, and rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly began to look like the heir apparent at middle linebacker. The Panthers finally traded Beason to the Giants in 2013 for a late draft pick.
A new perspective
The injuries continued to pile up, and in November Beason was again placed on the injured reserve. That same month, Beason’s daughter was born and he drew perspective on what really matters.
In February he traveled to the Bay Area to watch his former teammates play in Super Bowl 50. Three days later, he announced his retirement from football.
“I’m content because I had my moment in football,” said Beason, who will do part-time work with CBS this fall. “I understand that some of the best players to ever play the game didn’t make it to college or professionally because they got hurt. I had my moment and I’m proud of that because I went about my business the right way and left it all out there.
“Because of that I’m extremely grateful. Physically I can’t do it. So there’s no reason to be like, oh I have the itch.”
But then Beason had to stop himself because he did get that itch recently.
Two weekends ago Beason was at his alma mater, the University of Miami, helping new coach Mark Richt with a football camp. Beason, who still lives in Miami, was joined by former Hurricanes Ray Lewis and Michael Irvin at the camp.
He worked with players on the field and in the meeting room. The speech he delivered gave him goosebumps, he said.
“I feel like I have so much knowledge to give them, so many tidbits,” Beason said. “These are young high school kids who are wide eyed and I’m just trying to get them to go straight. That part of it, man, it was rewarding.
“I told Coach Richt whatever I can do, as long as time permits, I’m here. I’m your guy.”