Detroit Lions great Calvin Johnson called it a career in March following nine standout NFL seasons, and he recently sat down with ESPN's Michael Smith for an upcoming episode of E:60 in which he discusses his history of concussions and painkiller use.
During the segment, which will be televised Thursday evening at 10 p.m. ET, Johnson revealed it was never difficult to obtain painkillers in the locker room, via ESPN.com news services:
I guess my first half of my career before they really, you know, before they were like started looking over the whole industry, or the whole NFL, the doctors, the team doctors and trainers they were giving them out like candy, you know?
If you were hurting, then you could get 'em, you know. It was nothing. I mean, if you needed Vicodin, call out, 'My ankle hurt,' you know. 'I need, I need it. I can't, I can't play without it,' or something like that. It was simple. That's how easy it was to get 'em, you know. So if you were dependent on 'em, they were readily available.
Furthermore, Johnson explained that the physical toll the game took on his body and the painkillers he would have been required to take to extend his career factored heavily into his decision to retire.
"I know how it felt to one, get it to go every day," Johnson added, per ESPN.com. "And to be out there actually doing it every day, you know—the pain to do it. So I'm just like—and you can't take Toradol and pain medicine every day, you know. You gotta give that stuff a rest, and that was one thing I wasn't willing to do."
The six-time Pro Bowler and single-season receiving record holder also noted he suffered multiple concussions over the course of his career.
"It's simple to get a concussion, you know," he said, per ESPN.com. "I don't know how many I've had over my career, you know, but I've definitely had my fair share."
But as Football Outsiders' Scott Kacsmar noted on Twitter, the Lions never once listed Johnson on the injury report with a head injury:
"Concussions happen," Johnson said. "If not on every play, then they happen like every other, every third play, you know. With all the helmet contact, guys hitting the ground, heads hitting ground. It's simply when your brain touches your skull from the movement or the inertia, man."
As far as perceived premature retirement goes, Johnson is hardly the first player in recent years to call it quits while in his prime.
Former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland was perhaps the most shocking of the bunch. Just 24 at the time of his announcement, Borland cited "the long-term effects of repetitive head trauma" when he stepped away, per ESPN.com's Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru.
And in the same vein as Johnson, former 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis left his post as one of the league's most dynamic defenders at 30 years old because he felt his body "could not keep up with the rigors of the NFL," per Tyler Emerick of the team's official website.