To retire or not to retire, that is the question

Emin Avakian

Professional athletes, for the most part, retire somewhere between the ages of 35-40. Comparing that to other professions, where the average age of retirement is 65-70, a discrepancy exists.

The common man or woman retires during the latter stages of life, giving them a chance to finally relax. Athletes who retire at the early age of 40 still have the second half of their lives to live, and with so much energy that relaxing is not on their to-do list. Is there even one? When you’re done doing what you do best, what motivation is there to do something else??

Maybe that’s one of the more valid explanations as to why professional athletes just can’t stay retired.

Maybe that’s why Michael Jordan, Brett Favre and Sugar Ray Robinson, and other prominent athletes felt they had to come back to the respective leagues they each left as one of the all-time greats.?

And while they were still effective in their comebacks, not one of them made us say, ‘Wow, thank God he came back.’ Instead, they made us cringe, because we compared them to what they once were, and there was no comparison.?

Jordan shot and made the championship-winning basket against the Utah Jazz in the 1998 NBA Finals in what was thought to be his last game. It was the perfect way to go out for the greatest baller ever. Or so we thought.? His Airness unretired to play for the Washington Wizards in 2001 and played below Jordan standards for two seasons before retiring for good.?

Jordan also retired after winning his third championship back in 1993 to go and ‘play baseball.’ But we all know what the real reason was, right? I digress. Another column. Another day.?

Favre turned an otherwise dull summertime for sports into intrigue and suspense. A couple months after announcing his retirement, Favre had a change of heart. It was around the time training camps were opening and decided he wanted to continue playing. In his favor, Favre has led the New York Jets to an okay season thus far, but let’s face it, he’s the quarterback of a below-average offense.?

As most boxers do, Robinson retired and unretired about 79 times. After a bout with Joey Maxim, in which the Yankee Stadium heat caused him to collapse and suffer the only knockout of his career, he retired at 131-3-1-1. He then dedicated his time to show business: singing and tap dancing. Three years later, the lack of success in his performances made Robinson return to boxing. This was 1955. TEN years later, on November 11, 1965, Robinson again announced his retirement from boxing, saying: ‘I hate to go too long campaigning for another chance.’?

Jordan, Favre and Robinson wanted to prove something, but in the eyes of sports fans, these larger-than-life athletes already proved everything they had to. A comeback would only end in disappointment and regret.?

The thing about these athletes and dozens more who make comebacks is they can’t get accustomed to a normal life. It’s hard for them to be professional athletes one day, and just another average family man the next. For fifteen years (if they’re lucky), they devote themselves year-round to one of the few, if not the only, things they’re good at. And then, it’s all over. There is 20, 30, or 40 years of the rest of their lives to sit around. The athletes who come back retired to see if they can handle the average life and, as we see, some miss the game too much.?

Take John Lynch for example. Lynch was a former football player who played most of his career for the Denver Broncos. Now he’s retired and, as columnist Rick Reilly wrote in his piece about Lynch, it’s tough to get used to. ‘He’s learning life all over. For 15 years, his fall and winter days were mapped out: 6:30 a.m.’mdash;weight room; 8 a.m.’mdash;position meeting; 9 a.m.’mdash;full team meeting. ‘Now I drop off the kids, come home and I’m like, what do I do all day?’ Worse, that built-in excuse he had when people called him to do stuff he didn’t want to do?

‘Sorry, I can’t. Got a game coming up.’ All gone.

It’s not our places to tell someone, or even suggest, when the time has come for them to stop doing what they love doing. But it’s clear that many athletes attempt comebacks for the wrong reasons, and that’s why we see so many of them struggling in the sport they used to dominate.