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Why Do So Many Athletes Fear Retirement?

by Nick Vitrano

NFL free agency is upon us.  The franchise tag declaration has expired and by week’s end, players will be able to chat it up with potential suitors.  Fantastic.  I love this time of the year – when unfathomable sums of money are tossed the way of average performers; when teams reach for the potential of not being great, just less bad at any given position.  “That dude got how much?!” 

Then there are the aging fellas who are willing to take a dramatic cut just to stay in the game.  It’s the latter that spawned a work-place conversation today.  In short – why can’t these dudes just walk away?

I’ll preface with the following: I genuinely enjoy my job.  That’s not a fabrication.  I do enjoy my job.  But let’s be honest with ourselves.  There’s intention behind our Powerball participation.  No matter how rewarding, no matter how enjoyable, there’s a reason it’s called work.  And if we could hit that jackpot, we’d hang up our cleats in a heartbeat – travel the world, buy that open concept property with bathrooms in excess and a hot tub on the deck, purchase a summer home, collect classic cars, coach our kid’s little league team…whatever.

We spend our entire lives working for the prospect of some day not working.  It’s rather ironic really, a satire that seems to be lost on countless NFLers every year about this time - and most of our jobs don’t involve potential for great physical harm at any moment.  

I don’t have a problem with guys who should be able to fade away without financial concern wanting to continue working.  I really don’t.  I just don’t get it. 

I think the toughest hurdle to retirement for professional sports figures is the feeling of identity lost.  For those who find that obstacle insurmountable, it’s truly an issue of perspective lost.  The job is not merely what they do…it is who they are…it’s how they define themselves.  It’s a not so fine line that lends itself to tragic endings – as simple as the subpar stat line of the athlete who stays one campaign too long - as complex as a marriage lost to the hours and stress, a nonexistent relationship with a child, a suicide. 

Like I said, I don’t have a problem with these guys wanting to work.  I just don’t get what is so horrible about being home.