What do those three have in common?
1) They’re all under the age of 30.
2) They’re all now retired NFL players
The retirements of all three of these players shocked many people when they were announced this week in what has become an insane free agent cycle. Their announcements, because of the preponderance of other deals, have largely gone under the radar and been un-talked about.
Rashard Mendenhall was the first player I really noticed this with. The former Steelers and Cardinals running back retired before last season at the age of 26, citing basically the same reason as Worilds. That he “had other interests that he wanted to pursue.” Willis stated that he wouldn’t feel right about taking a paycheck knowing that he couldn’t give 100%. Locker said that he no longer had the “burning desire to play the game for a living”.
The reasons are different enough but similar in some regard. These players aren’t seeing football as their entire lives. To fans, that shocks us. We put so much stock in to our teams we root for them endlessly and see the players most often as nothing but just that: players. These retirements are a jolt of reality injected into the equation. What I hope we start to gleam from this? That NFL players and athletes throughout professional sports are human.
Now, on a basic level we know that about our favorite players. But in today’s day and age of fantasy sports and advanced metrics and analytics we see numbers and stats more than humans on the playing field. Maybe these retirements can bring us back to reality a bit. I hope it does.
The humanity of sports needs to come to the forefront. We need to understand that players aren’t just there for our entertainment, they’re humans as well. The reason we need to understand that is pretty simple. Because if we understand that, then maybe we’ll begin to treat them as we treat our fellow normal civilians. We won’t harshly criticize any and every error they make. For as much as sports may be an “escape” for us to get away from the harsh realities of the real world, we need to realize that it isn’t all encompassing for every player.
That can make us angry, bitter and resentful. Because what many see is a player wasting an opportunity to do what many of us never had a chance to do: play sports at the highest level. But, the player today more so than in any other era is showing that they aren’t just defined as an athlete. They don’t want to be boxed in.
That’s not to say all athletes are this way. Some, like those of us in the workforce, are defined by their jobs. But others, also like us, are defined by things away from work. Our family, traveling, writing, music, all of the hobbies that we have on the weekends, are ones that NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB and all professional athletes have as well.
I want you to keep that in mind as you digest these retirements. Or as you scream for a player to be moved or traded from your favorite team. For as much as we want our team to win, these are human beings we’re talking about, let’s try and give them the level of respect that goes in accordance with that.
Ryan Mayer is an Associate Producer for CBS Local Sports. Ryan lives in NY but comes from Philly and life as a Philly sports fan has made him cynical. Anywhere sports are being discussed, that’s where you’ll find him.