Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Telling Athletes When to Go

Jack Shafer nails, just nails all the sportswriters who anoint themselves as arbiters of sports greats' legacies, and write preeningly about this or that athlete's need to ignore their own wishes, and go ahead and retire so as to please some small segment of the fan base:
Why are sportswriters so invested in sports stars retiring while still on the top or, as Rhoden puts it, with their "legacy intact"? Sportswriters hardly ever command average players to quit. Michael Jordan endured the chastising nonsense from the sporting press when he returned to the NBA's Washington Wizards in 2001. The Wizard years weren't career-best for Jordan, but by any other measure they were great and meaningful. Yet the sporting press would have you believe that playing two years for the average Wizards somehow diminished Jordan's championship seasons with the Chicago Bulls.


The athlete in decline who decides to leave the game on his own timetable does no harm to anybody. What fan doesn't enjoy seeing his favorite star one more time? Only sportswriters cherish storybook career-finishes. They want Ted Williams to hit a home run in his last at-bat, because that's a prettier story to write than chronicling a superstar who goes out stumbling—like Willie Mays. If sportswriters had their way, every star would die of Lou Gehrig disease during his last dance on the field, the court, or the rink.
This idea is silly, yet it's something that's so ingrained in the sports media that no one ever gets called out for it. Why should any still productive person stop doing something he likes, something that gives him purpose and meaning and a reason to wake up in the morning (all of which can be tricky propositions for the former star athlete) because he was slightly more productive in years past? I can understand the desire in boxing, because of the long-term health issues, but when the wish is based only on diminished performance, it's incredibly selfish to think that for fans or writers to think that their concept of legacy (i.e. their memories) should carry more weight than the athlete's desire to continue living a fulfilling life.

When I reach 65 [looking for wood], if I am happier continuing to draw a paycheck and someone else is willing to pay me, why should I give a crap that someone I don't know thinks it would make a better story if I retired to Boca Raton with my wife? When you examine this trope from an objective distance, it's one of the stupidest concepts presently circulating in the sports world.


jd said...

Of course, boxing probably should be at least a partial exception.

Also, the real problem is the totally predictable vicious media circle such coverage creates. First, the "will he return or won't he? Updates every hour!" Then the "he's back! will it be glory or disgrace?" Followed invariably by "Well now that the comeback is such big news, we're gonna keep it on page 1 all year now matter how middling the performance..." Which culminates in the in-sorrow-not-anger piece that Shafer flays.

*Eternal disclaimer: Fuck Brett Favre. (And Andy Petite too.)

[Appropriately, the captcha at the moment is "oldness."]

pc said...

Yeah boxing's definitely a case apart. And football too insofar as concussions play a role.

I think the vicious circle is a pain in the ass and I think Shafer is right that it just springs from an easy way to write a thoughtless piece about something that in and of itself isn't that compelling or new. Which is why so many sports columns seem like they were written by the same person.

No objection on Favre. Until Shaub has a bye and I have to start him on my fantasy team. Then, Viva Favre!