Calling it a day
Kobe Bryant had the perfect farewell game, but majority of athletes struggle with goodbyes.

IN a pivotal scene from the football movie Any Given Sunday, Miami Sharks aging quarterback ‘Cap’ Rooney levels with coach Tony D’Amato during a visit to the former’s residence about the injuries that have piled up and the consequences of playing hurt. After much discussion, the coach wins the argument and manages to convince Cap to give it one last shot. Cap even gets (literally) slapped in the face and rebuked by his ambition-drunk wife who refuses to even consider him giving up his starting position, much more retire from the sport altogether. In the crucial playoff game, things finally come undone: Rooney takes a bone-crunching hit early in the game as he scores a touchdown, suffers a major concussion, and has to be helped off the playing field. Amazingly (this is Hollywood, after all), Cap is still able to regain his wits though not anymore his physical prowess, and give an inspiring pep talk to up-and-coming alternate quarterback Willie ‘Steamin’ Beamen, whose heads up play eventually wins the day for the Sharks.

Inspiring and moving scenes happen a lot in the movies, and in real life, too, but for every motivational tale comes an unequal amount of broken bones and dreams, where potential and future legends come crashing down to earth in a single moment of being a step or second late. Too many times, we have been witness to the often sad and depressing drama of sports idols playing past their prime and fighting just to keep their place on the team. We all know of athletes who’ve struggled desperately to stay in the rotation or keep their place in the starting line-up even if it means for the whole team suffering as a result.

And then there are those who just won’t go away unless you forcibly tear them away from their moorings —like political dictators and appointees. It’s the same difference, but with more difficulty in managing. When an old political fart refuses to see the failure of his leadership and needs to be ousted through a clear no confidence vote in favor of an alternative choice or through an outright coup, you have to wonder just what the proper measure is for gauging a politician’s competence and efficacy.

 

It made me ask myself what politicians deal with if at all it keeps them up at night. In his or her heart of hearts, I don’t think anyone ever started life dreaming of becoming a politician. When you think about it, there’s no clear advantage or benefit (wink wink): the hours are long, the job doesn’t pay much, and it requires you to be nice to people you’re not crazy about - unless there’s more to it than hobnobbing with wealthy businessmen and celebrities, cutting ribbons, and kissing babies. At the end of a politician’s life, he or she will have to grapple with what the real contribution he/she has made to make the world a better place. But then, that would be expecting too much from such a public servant.

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I think the Japanese are on to something with their honor code. It’s not unusual to read about corporate executives resigning their positions and leaving the company, some going to the extent of committing suicide, in the face of scandal or poor performance. I wish our politicians would follow that example, except that’s like waiting for a blizzard to hit Boracay. In an ideal world, we’d probably lose majority of our sitting public officials. And wouldn’t it be nice if we could get Thanos to snap his fingers and wipe out just the bad guys so we could reboot the game?

The sporting world, on the other hand, is a more unforgiving but orderly region to determine when it’s time to keep going or step aside. With its finite boundaries and measurable performance, sports provides comprehensible criteria to decipher the great from the good, the outstanding from the ordinary. Numbers don’t lie, and victories and statistics, though not the absolute measure of a successful career, contribute to an uncomplicated assessment of where an athlete’s place lies. When shooting percentages begin to fall or runs allowed begin to rise, it’s time to re-examine one’s contribution to the sport and/or to the team and consider the reality of stepping down. 

It’s painful to watch once-dominating players in any sport struggle magnificently to keep up with younger, faster, and stronger competitors. Our hearts bleed for these icons that refuse to give up for reasons known only to them. Oftentimes though, the reason is simple: it’s the only thing they know. It’s the only world they know. Which makes it all the more saddening when we learn about athletes that go from hero to zero in a matter of years from leaving their profession. The sporting world is littered with sagas of sports titans who have fallen on hard times because of their inability to make the transition to a life outside the sporting realm.

Preparation is half the battle, and as with any project or unexpected eventuality, retirement is a truth that comes into every person’s life. Injury, age, and stronger competition are the usual suspects, and though there is a multitude of ways to forestall these, they remain imminent and unavoidable. Hopefully, more athletes will look to preparing for such at the beginning rather than at the end of their careers. And though we sometimes lambast them for their stubbornness to keep going when all is lost or criticize them for playing the wrong card in the game of life, let’s never take away from these modern-day gladiators and warriors the records they have set or the challenges they have overcome in the sporting arena.  They have inspired many and have sacrificed enough to deserve their heralded place in their respective fields.

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Follow the writer on Twitter: @startlinebob