Guys get so mad at athletes who stay in the game “too long.” I mean, we can harbor serious resentment for these dudes when they don’t retire at the “top of their game.” As if, somehow, their career choice actually affects the quality of our lives. Brett is the most recent casualty of this, but certainly not the most impacting in my lifetime. I’ll never forget watching Michael Jordan’s slow spiral from fame to shame. I was such a super-fan back in the day. I used to sport my puffy Chicago Bulls coat and my 3-peat t-shirt with a picture of the rings on it. I had posters on my closet doors and I owned 3 different VHS tapes from Sports Illustrated with highlights of just him. He was a hero, a legend. Like Liono from Thundercats but in real life and playing basketball instead fighting evil and whatnot. Then came the unexpected retirement, followed by the even more unexpected mediocre minor league baseball career, followed by the return to the Bulls with a new number, followed by the return of his old number, followed by the second retirement, followed by his return to basketball as partial owner of the Wizards, followed by putting himself back in the game as a player again, followed by yet one more retirement, followed by being fired from the Wizards organization as a whole. Wow! He went from being the most dominant player the game had ever seen to being fired by the freakin’ Wizards. Lets just say I no longer want to “Be Like Mike.”
And now we are watching it all over again with Brett. Although, admittedly less drawn out than Mike’s adventure (at least so far).
Why is it so hard to watch these guys go down like this? Why do we need them to go out on top? I guess that’s just how we want to remember them. We want them to be immortal. We don’t want to watch the bodies of our superheroes break down. It leaves us feeling vulnerable ourselves. Like, somehow, if they quit before it happens, they will stay the same and nothing will change. And we won’t have to come to terms with the fact that time has stolen our youth as well and our own body is breaking down and that, we too, may soon be looking at our best days in the rear view mirror.
The truth is most of you will never have millions of raving fans. But for those of us who do, it can be quite difficult. You wouldn’t understand the pressure!
Okay, well…maybe I’m not quite there yet, but I do have almost 500 friends on Facebook which is very encouraging and I feel like it’s only a matter of time. Anyway, I honestly don’t begin to know how it would feel to fall so quickly from that level of extraordinary fame to simply being a big guy in a track suit (that’s how I imagine retired athletes dressing all the time) at the grocery store. And even though it just seems like yesterday that everything you did made the news, the reality is, today you just need to get out of bed at some point before noon and move to the couch so you can watch other people play sports on your super huge TV. No one is expecting anything out of you anymore, except for maybe a speech at your Hall of Fame induction, if you get in. And even still, you have a good decade or so to work out the wording on that. And while we like to imagine that we would love to retire so young and just relax with all that money and leisure the truth is, we weren’t wired that way. No one wants to hear “Man, you were the best” or “I used to love watching you on TV, you were amazing.” We might think that we would be satisfied with that, but most likely we wouldn’t be. There would always be that voice inside of us calling out for recognition. “I AM STILL GREAT!” And we would fight the desire to hang on to that glory as long as possible too. The only reason why it doesn’t happen to more guys is that most of them wouldn’t be accepted back into the pros if they tried to go back.
As it is, we watch these guys come out of retirement or decide to play “one more season” and we say things like, “why does he keep playing? Doesn’t he have enough money?” as if any of us are under the delusion that this is really about money. It turns out they are human too and just like the rest of us they are all bottomless vacuums of insecurity. It’s never enough money, enough wins, enough fame, enough recognition. Just like you and me, they are constantly searching for the ever-illusive sense of significance and purpose.
Well, I don’t know if my journey will look much like Brett or Michael’s but I know a few things about my own heart. I know I still have enough pride in there to fight like a frightened raccoon to hold onto whatever glory I may be able to attain for myself. And I know that I still find myself gauging my significance and value by the approval of others. Which, in the words of the prophet Jeremiah is just a “broken cistern that can hold no water” and will always leave me thirsting for more. I guess I’m not all that different from these guys after all (well… apart from extreme athletic prowess). And if I don’t consistently turn to the “fountain of living waters” as my all-sufficient supply of value, significance & purpose than I could easily go out with far less dignity and grace.
So, overall I feel a little less inclined to throw stones at Brett. You know the whole glass house thing and all. Not to mention, if I threw a rock at that dude, a broken window would be the least of my concerns.