Retiring from sports

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(Host) Lately commentator Brian Porto has been thinking about why athletic retirement is so difficult.

(Porto) During the seventh game of the 2004 American League Championship Series between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, I realized that, in all likelihood, no future event in the lives of the players on both teams would command their attention and bring forth their best efforts in the way that this game would. That is because nowhere but in sport must one give the maximum mental and physical effort, in competition against others, in public, and knowing that the outcome, which will be determined quickly, is final. Sport is life on fast forward, and that is why we love it.

The same features that make sport exciting to play, though, can make retirement from sport difficult. At an age when other professionals are entering the most challenging and lucrative portions of their careers, athletes must leave the arena, thereby losing the identity that brought them fame and fortune early in life. Even when they are financially secure, former athletes can find it difficult to live without the sport that may well have been the source of their self image from childhood until early middle age.

For example, former New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath and former New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor, legends both, fell victim to substance abuse in retirement. Namath, as a recent biography reveals, discovered that fishing, playing golf, and even doting on his two daughters were poor substitutes for challenging and satisfying work. Similarly, Taylor, as a recent television interview revealed, learned that his daily golf game was not enough to make him happy. Each man saw his marriage fail during his retirement from football.

The saddest athletic “retirements,” though, involve athletes whose dreams of fame and fortune are snuffed out early, often by a career-ending injury. A prime example is James “Boobie” Miles, a running back at Permian High School in Odessa, Texas in the late 1980s, who is featured in the recent film “Friday Night Lights.” Boobie’s dreams of a professional football career died in his senior year of high school, when he suffered a major knee injury. His knee was never the same after his injury, nor was his life, because he was neither intellectually nor psychologically prepared for life without football. Unlike Joe Namath and Lawrence Taylor, he had to work at menial jobs after his football career ended, while wondering what his life would have been like but for the injury.

There is a lesson for young athletes and their parents in the experiences of Joe Namath, Lawrence Taylor, and James Miles, namely, that athletic skill cannot be the sole basis for a happy life, whether or not it brings fame and fortune early on. Nobody taught James Miles this lesson, and that cost him dearly. Let’s hope that someone has taught it to the Red Sox players who made New England proud this fall because someday their Friday night lights will go out, too.

This is Brian Porto of Windsor.

Brian Porto is an attorney and a free lance writer. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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