Friday, May 16, 2008

Retiring Too Soon

This week golfer Annika Sorenstam joined Brett Favre in the ranks of athletes retiring at the top of their game this year. Both of them said they had been thinking about the decision for a long time, but to their fans, the decision seemed abrupt, and even a little mystifying perhaps. Obviously playing football exacts a more physical toll on your body than playing pro golf does, so we could understand if Brett felt worn down. But his performance on the field in 2007 dispelled any notions we might have had that his skills were declining. In the memorably snowy playoff game against Seattle in Green Bay, Brett was running around the field like any of his twenty-something teammates. And the Packers are definitely a team on the rise, with some of the best young players in the NFL, and steadily improving depth at key positions like defensive line and wide receiver.

So, we ask, why quit, Brett?

Ms. Sorenstam is also enjoying a great season, and in the somewhat convoluted player ranking system the golf tours use, she is one of the top two female golfers in the world right now—she may end up the season #1. She battled through some injuries last season, but seems to be healthy now. And golfers never really “retire”. They might cut back on the tournaments they play, or just concentrate on the “majors”, but they never completely leave the scene. Golfer Julius Boros when asked why he kept playing on the PGA tour well into his 50’s responded memorably: “Retire to what? All I do now is fish and play golf.”

So, we ask, why quit, Annika?

Both of these fine athletes cited almost identical reasons: they still enjoy playing the game, but the mental strain of preparation, and the battle to stay physically and emotionally on top of your game got to be too much.

I think it comes down to a kind of stubborn pride that you need to have to be a top athlete for an extended number of years. Some athletes demand from themselves nothing less than being the best in their particular sport—and they demand that they constantly improve. When they see that holding on to that top spot is becoming more difficult each year they, perhaps wisely, choose to walk away.

For Green Bay Packer fans, one of the things they have dreaded most is the day when Brett had a poor performance on the field and the coach replaced him with the second string understudy. Now, that will never happen. He exited the game as the starting quarterback of one of the greatest sports franchises in the United States.

Annika says she’s looking forward to other things, including business ventures and getting married. I think she’s also looking forward to not having to look behind her and see the younger players catching up. And they will.

But both of these star athletes will soon see that there’s nothing that can really replace the sound of cheers when your name is announced prior to the game or on the first tee.

And they may not admit it publicly, but they will both have thoughts that they retired too soon.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Not An Easy Gig

Many newspapers with online editions now have a place at the bottom of articles where readers can post their comments about the article. Like everything else about the anonymous world of the Internet, this brings out lots of nasty people making nasty comments. It seems to me many people just use these forums to vent their anger over the sorry state of the their own lives, rather than contributing any thoughtful comment about the newspaper article in question. I much preferred the “old days” when if you wanted a letter to the editor published, you had to give the newspaper your real name and phone number so they could call and verify you were who you said you were—and you had to have your name printed with the letter. This cut down on some of the seriously deranged commentary that otherwise would have occurred.

My father’s motto was: “Let’s all be nice.” He usually meant that in the form of an order rather than a suggestion. The subtext was, “If you can’t say anything pleasant, just be quiet.” He’d be shocked to see the rudeness that passes for “discussion” on the Internet. I also doubt he’d waste his time reading any of it.

I’ve been noticing in some of the NFL articles in various newspapers that the comments being posted have a common thread: “This article is so boring.” “This writer has nothing new to say.”

It’s called the offseason, people. The writer doesn’t have anything new to say because nothin’ is happening. We bring this situation of weak content on ourselves because we visit our football web sites every day, the newspaper takes note of the huge number of visitors and assigns writers to come up with “fresh” content every day. Maybe we should be a little more understanding of the struggles these writers go through.

Being a newspaper writer or columnist is not an easy gig, even when exciting things are happening. News-wise, the NFL is in the doldrums this time of year. There’s nothing the writers can do about it. Maybe we should cut them some slack. How about posting things like: “Great grammar in that article! Congrats” or “I always learn new vocabulary words when I read your stories. Keep up the good work.”

Imagine that, a kinder, gentler Internet.