THE HOT TOPIC: Reluctance to retire is natural
Being immortal isn't all it's cracked up to be if a fellow
feels he's already dead. Whatever the gridiron's gravitational pull on
presumptive Hall of Famer Brett Favre - competitive need, fan adulation,
locker-room fellowship - he appears to have come to the same conclusion as that
famous pro football team owner Jon Bon Jovi: "I don't want to live forever,
just want to know that I'm alive."
It's bad enough for a person in any walk of life to suddenly have an AARP
magazine show up in the mail, the clarion call that it really is later than you
think. But for athletes, who are said to "die twice," the second of French
philosopher Simone de Beauvoir's either/or perceptions of retirement almost
always hits closer to home.
Not the "prolonged holiday" possibility, but the "being thrown on the scrap
Chaos indeed has ensued over Favre's second-guess of his March farewell
after 16 glamorous seasons. The Green Bay Packers quarterback's planning has
been thrown for a loss with the opening of training camp now a week away.
Bloviating commentators and opinionated fans are interpreting Favre's motives
But Favre's display of confusion, anger and distrust - though far more
public than is typical - is spectacularly common for his situation.
"It's news now because Brett's an icon," said Scott Tinley, who conceived
the Athlete Retirement Institute at San Diego State University two years ago.
"But we're looking at life transition. It's a great way to understand these
Tinley is a former two-time Ironman world champion who "helped myself get
through [athletic retirement] by studying it," including a master's thesis and
book on the subject. He has interviewed scores of retired athletes about life
after sports and was most struck by former Cleveland Browns All-Pro lineman
Jerry Sherk's take.
"Sherk said, 'Look, the sooner you can realize the best part of your life
is over at 35, 40, the better off you'll be.' That kind of letting go, that
kind of reframing your identity is very, very hard."
Tinley's old home for former jocks essentially provides networking among
retired athletes because "we found that, like soldiers returning from war, they
couldn't talk to someone who hadn't earned the conversation, because you
wouldn't feel it if you hadn't gone through it."
To an extent, Wall Street Journal reporter and NPR commentator Stefan
Fatsis has been through it, having spent the 2006 training camp as an embedded
journalist and amateur placekicker with the Denver Broncos. The result is
Fatsis' just-released book, "A Few Seconds of Panic: A 5-foot-8, 170-pound,
43-year-old Sportswriter Plays in the NFL," dealing in depth with players'
feelings about job and career.
Fatsis even has found himself observing the Favre case "more as a player"
than reporter: "It's sort of a media orgy that doesn't involve me." Among NFL
players, he said, "I bet there's a lot of eye rolling going on, and I bet if
you injected [Favre quarterback heir] Aaron Rodgers with truth serum, he might
not be so diplomatic as he's been in discussing Favre."
Fatsis' time spent with Broncos management as well as players reinforced
that "there isn't any sentiment from the team's perspective," he said.
"Sentiment is destructive; it doesn't win games. The Packers owe Favre a
tremendous amount; he's been an icon. But the cold, hard reality of the NFL is,
when the organization decides it's time to move on, that's what the
organization will do."
Which, of course, is at odds with Tinley's reading of Favre being
"conflicted" over retirement, described by Tinley as "catching athletes
unawares, because they live under the Greek term 'hubris.'
"And society makes them that way. Everybody wants to join in the discourse
on this but very little of the conversation goes to the idea that maybe mass
culture and the fanaticism of our society surrounding sports is culpable in
this whole situation. We make gods out of them and then we dispose of them."
At 38, Favre has been a football star, on various levels, most of his life,
"so it's hard to figure out what to do next, even if you're secure," Fatsis
said. "Psychologically, the culture of the game, the locker room, the
attention, the emotional wash of Sundays, it's hard to replace. Impossible to
"Maybe Brett Favre was rash when he decided to quit, and now the players
are reassembling and he's not with them and that's tough to accept.
"Or maybe he just wants to keep playing."
Heaven can wait.