With the explosion of social media and more and more athletes having their own platform to make announcements the art of retiring has become lost for a lot of people. The modern way to retire is to make an announcement in the pre-season and then enjoy a season of adulation from your home fans, begrudging respect on the road and tributes from opposing teams.
It started in baseball with Chipper Jones in 2012, but the Yankees Mariano Rivera really opened the floodgates in 2013. When the fearsome Yankees closer, who had tormented every team – but particularly my own beloved Red Sox – declared in March that 2013 was going to be his last. From then on he was venerated around the league all season. In fairness Mariano always kept it classy. He was a genuinely nice guy who fans only disliked because he was so devastatingly good. But after Mariano came Derek Jeter in 2014 and now David Ortiz. Alex Rodriguez has given a two year lead time on his retirement date!
It’s not just baseball where the art of graceful retirement has gone missing. The NFL has always had a problem with retirement, from Brett Favre’s “will he won’t he” offseason dances with Green Bay to Tony Gonzalez’s silent but frustrating non-committal comment it has been rare to have a clean exit from the league. Football is a tough sport, and I understand that at the end of one season you don’t know if you will be up to another in 6 months time, but the lack of clarity from some players has lead to teams struggling to put plans in place and fans becoming resentful of “entitled” players.
In the NBA Kobe Bryant announced his retirement in November and took a lap of honour around the league this season. Deserved or not it leads to a feeling that players crave the spotlight even more, they are primadonnas who want the whole sports media circuit to revolve around them.
However there is a pushback starting to happen. Star players are starting to bow out quickly and quietly, with grace and dignity. Patrick Willis, a seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers, walked away from the game in March last year with a “thank you and goodbye” and nothing else, ending what would have been a Hall of Fame career early and without looking for the spotlight. Calvin Johnson, a player who dominated his position and broke records, decided to call it a day and left Detroit in the meekest fashion possible for someone nicknamed “Megatron”.
Then there was Tim Duncan yesterday, who’s decision to hang it up inspired this piece. Here is a man so unassuming that his world class, hall of fame career has passed by a lot of casual fans. While basketball connoisseurs recognise him as one of the greatest power forwards of all time his “lack” of scoring and quiet manner meant he never sought the spotlight, and he retired in the same way he played – with a deft touch and a modest attitude.
Hopefully more players in the future will discover the art of retiring and follow the examples of Patrick Willis, Calvin Johnson and Tim Duncan. David Ortiz has already said he regrets announcing his retirement early as the “retirement tour” demands have impacted on his preparation time before games. Maybe the next superstar who steps away from the game will follow the lead of Duncan and do so quietly, and we can go back to focusing on the game rather than having a portion of the coverage diverted to the ego stroking if departing legends.