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49ers Running Back Retires From NFL, Without Playing A Snap

Marcus Lattimore retired from the NFL Wednesday, ending his hopes of returning from a knee injury to play for the San Francisco 49ers.
Jason O. Watson
Getty Images
Marcus Lattimore retired from the NFL Wednesday, ending his hopes of returning from a knee injury to play for the San Francisco 49ers.

Saying his knees wouldn't withstand the punishment the NFL deals out, running back Marcus Lattimore retired from the league Wednesday. Lattimore, 23, suffered serious injuries to both knees in college. He says he chose a higher quality of life over the promise of millions of dollars.

We'll also note that Lattimore seems to have had good advisers: As rumors of his possible retirement spread this weekend, ESPN reported that he "has a tax-free $1.7 million insurance policy that he should be able to collect on" if his career ends for medical reasons, citing the athlete's agent.

Despite his injuries, Lattimore was taken by the San Francisco 49ers in the 2013 draft. He was only recently cleared to practice; he announced his decision to retire after lingering pain convinced him that his knees couldn't hold up in the NFL. The 2012 injury that ended his college career brought three torn ligaments and a dislocated knee cap.

"What's more important," Lattimore says in an interview today with The [South Carolina] State newspaper, "making millions while pushing through the pain, or being able to play in the backyard with your kids?"

That attitude might be seen as conflicting with the elite status Lattimore attained in football. But it's part of what endeared him to fans (full disclosure: your blogger is one) who watched the talented runner suffer two devastating injuries — first to one knee and then to the other.

"I always say, 'Adversity introduces a man to himself,' " Lattimore said of his struggles in 2013. "That's a quote that pops in my mind every time I'm going through a hard day or don't feel like doing something. That keeps me going."

Announcing his retirement, Lattimore wrote, "I have given my heart and soul to the game that I love, and it's time for me to move on to the next chapter of my life and help others." He added that he'll be returning to South Carolina to finish his degree.

A recent posting on Lattimore's Facebook page about his rehabilitation drew dozens of comments. The initial notes were from fans who were excited about seeing him play again — but today, they were notes of sympathy and encouragement.

"So many people, even Clemson fans, are rooting you on and hoping you see the field this year! We love you ML," one fan wrote.

"My family and I love you, Marcus," another wrote. "I'm so sorry that you weren't able to overcome your knee injuries and fulfill your NFL dreams, but so proud of your heart and determination."

A recent ranking of the Southeastern Conference's top 10 running backs in the BCS era by the website Saturday Down South puts Lattimore in eighth place, ahead of current NFL player Knowshon Moreno and Alabama's TJ Yeldon. The site notes that Lattimore ran for 1,197 yards as a freshman, before he tore his MCL and ACL in his sophomore year. He finished his college career with 41 touchdowns and more than 3,300 all-purpose yards.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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