Posts Tagged ‘sports retirement’

Early retirement: players call it quits in prime of careers

Sports Psychology in Associate Press – By JANIE McCAULEY – July 30, 2015 – SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Patrick Willis walked away first with a nagging toe injury that kept him from being the dominant All-Pro linebacker of his prime.

Then his heir apparent and San Francisco teammate Chris Borland followed with his own stunning retirement on the heels of his spectacular rookie season, citing concern about head trauma over a hard-hitting career.

Tennessee quarterback Jake Locker called it quits after four seasons. Next, ex-Pittsburgh pass-rushing specialist Jason Worilds bid farewell to football. And then yet another 49er joined the list of departures from the NFL while still young: Offensive lineman and 2010 first-round pick Anthony Davis also chose his health and future over more punishing knocks in the head after a concussion left him dazed for weeks late last year.

“You don’t want to see guys walk away, but at the end of the day everyone has their own problems and things they need to deal with, their own reasons,” San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis said. “We didn’t expect Patrick to retire.”

Around the league, players began taking the leap to that unknown life after football — at 30 or younger, no less.

“As many players that do consider perhaps the long-term risks and the cost benefits of a long-term career in a contact sport, you’re going to get that,” said sports psychologist Dr. John F. Murray, based in Palm Beach, Florida. “We’ve had more education and increased awareness from many avenues about the risks of concussions long term, the risks of the effects of that.”

In an offseason overshadowed by deflated footballs, Willis, Locker and the 27-year-old Worilds retired in a stunning 24-hour span starting March 10.

Five-time All-Pro Willis retired at age 30. Davis is 25 and Borland 24. Locker, then 26 — the NFL’s eighth overall pick in 2011 — never played a full season and appeared in only 30 games in all.

Willis left without a Super Bowl ring, coming so close following the 2012 season in a three-point loss to the Ravens.

“I always told myself that I wanted it to be on my terms,” Willis said in an emotional announcement at Levi’s Stadium last spring. “I wanted it to be in a way that was just amazing. … In my head, I’m already a Hall of Famer. I am leaving this with closure, saying that I am happy today, more happy today than I was the day I was drafted. That says something to me.”

San Francisco players expressed mixed emotions at the turnover, as fearsome defensive end Justin Smith also retired, though the 35-year-old had 14 years in the league.

Borland and Anthony Davis feared concussions and head injuries.

“When I started there wasn’t a whole lot of awareness on concussions,” 40-year-old 49ers placekicker Phil Dawson said. “Now, guys are informed. The doctors are on top of it. I think it’s a good deal.”

Willis, San Francisco’s defensive captain and locker room leader, explained his tender size-13 feet “12½ when they’re bent” could no longer handle the grind of NFL practices, let alone the demands of game day. He had surgery on his left big toe, went on season-ending injured reserve on Nov. 11 after getting hurt at St. Louis on Oct. 13.

“I have no regrets. I’ve had the most amazing eight years of football of my life,” he said.

Locker has returned to his roots in Washington state with his wife and two young children.

Davis, the outspoken offensive lineman, left open returning if his body fully heals. Davis had been considering leaving for a few years, announcing his plans in a statement.

“This will be a time for me to allow my brain and body a chance to heal. I know many won’t understand my decision, that’s OK,” Davis said. “I hope you, too, have the courage to live your life how you planned it when day dreaming to yourself growing up. Your life is your dream and you have the power to control that dream. I’m simply doing what’s best for my body as well as my mental health at this time in my life.”

For veterans who have stayed healthy, thoughts of retirement might be far from their minds.

“When you have those things going for you, why not keep playing?” 38-year-old Raiders safety Charles Woodson said. “Even though you’ve got guys retiring, there’s a bunch of guys that would still love to be playing. For all of those guys that I’ve played with that tell me every year, ‘Keep going,’ because they would love to have this opportunity.”

Murray says the NFL shouldn’t be overly concerned about a dwindling talent pool.

“There will always be a demand for multi-million-dollar salaries and the glory that goes with playing NFL football,” he said.

Still, constant change is part of the business.

“Every man in here has the right to decide how long he wants to play. It’s his career,” Dawson said. “Whether it’s retirements, or injuries or trades or cuts or whatever the case may be, for those of us who are still here you’ve just got to come to work and do the best you can.”

AP Pro Football Writer Teresa M. Walker and AP Sports Writer Josh Dubow contributed to this report. I hope you enjoyed this item from the world of sports psychology.

KNOWING WHEN TO STOP KEY IN SPORTS

Orlando Sentinel – Jul 12, 2005 – George Diaz – Cyclist Lance Armstrong has a chance at a perfect ending to his career. Some other high-profile athletes haven’t been as fortunate.

It seems so much easier to walk away with your dignity unscathed, and your knees not screaming in pain when you get up every morning.

The ache in body and soul reflects the passion of many professional athletes who can’t face the consequences of deteriorating skills. They bury the rough edges in their mind, clinging to a revisionist history.

It gives us all the more reason to celebrate Lance Armstrong.

He churns through the mountains in France, each spin of the bicycle wheel moving him closer to the opportunity to script the perfect ending to a marvelous and poignant career.

Already a six-time winner, Armstrong quite possibly could capture an unprecedented seventh Tour de France title. The three-week odyssey concludes in Paris July 24 after 2,242 miles. Win or lose, Armstrong has said he will retire.

“I feel excited and obligated to win,” Armstrong said during the early stages of competition.

Despite surrendering the overall lead in the ninth stage Sunday, Armstrong is primed to regain his top-dog status in the Alps when the tour continues today after Monday’s brief break.

Assuming he snags another title, Armstrong won’t have much company in the historical sports archives.

John Elway walked away with a Super Bowl trophy to celebrate the 1998 season and didn’t bother messing up the perfect ending. Charlie Ward celebrated a Heisman Trophy and national championship in 1993 before shutting down his football career to make a living in the NBA. Heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano retired undefeated.

A few others have walked away in their prime: Marvin Hagler lost a controversial decision to Sugar Ray Leonard in 1987, and moved to Italy, leaving million-dollar paydays behind. Barry Sanders could have become the NFL’s all-time rushing leader, but abruptly retired in 1999 after gaining 1,491 yards during the 1998 season.

Most often, the story swings the other way.

The memories are not pleasant.

We like to think of Muhammad Ali as a skillful, sharp-tongued artist in the ring, instead of an old man sucking for air between rounds of his last fight in 1981 in Jamaica. The image we have of Michael Jordan has him flying through the air in a Chicago Bulls uniform instead of his plodding along with a mediocre team in Washington. Johnny Unitas wearing a San Diego Chargers uniform? Please.

“Athletes are often times the last person to know,” said John Murray, a sports psychologist based in Florida. “They have the skills, that competitive drive that got them to the top. That is the same thing that clouds their thinking. But again, it’s an individual choice.”

The choices are often thought to be poor ones, although those assumptions are not necessarily fair. Athletes have a limited shelf life, are extremely competitive, and at times do not properly prepare for a life outside the lines.

This volatile mix clouds an athlete’s vision. He or she sees one more dramatic run at scripting a perfect ending. More often than not, reality crushes those aspirations. They are left scraping for relevant time on the playing field, or alone in a boxing ring with slowing reflexes that no longer can defend against a younger man’s power.

“In reality there are few walk-off home runs, and I think the passion for competition and that underdog euphoria that comes with overachieving is very hard to replicate,” said Reggie Williams, who played linebacker with the Cincinnati Bengals for 14 seasons. “That’s why a lot of us — myself included — maybe went a little longer than we should have. I played my 14th year when there was an opportunity after just missing a Super Bowl victory, but I just couldn’t go out that way. Being close to the mountaintop wasn’t enough. I needed to try again.”

Williams gave it one more run, and the Bengals fell short of the Super Bowl.

He is now vice president of Disney Sports Attractions.

Armstrong fits within the team sport concept only in loose parameters. The cadre of other cyclists on his Discovery Channel team are basically there to watch his back and defend against attacks. They didn’t help him during the eighth stage of the competition, which Armstrong lost because he had no tactical help.

His dominance in competitive cycling reflects the strength in fighting a greater battle — overcoming testicular cancer that had metastasized, spreading to his lungs and brain.

His bike is decorated by New York graffiti artist Lenny Futura and engraved with the numbers “10/2” — marking the day, Oct. 2, 1996 — when doctors informed him that he had a 50 percent chance of dying.

Armstrong did not compete in 1997 and 1998 while he was recovering from cancer. He chose invasive surgery to remove brain lesions, and a severe course of chemotherapy. Standard chemotherapy would have meant the end of his cycling career, because a known side effect was a dramatic reduction in lung function.

Armstrong made a triumphant return in 1999 to become only the second American after Greg LeMond (1986, 1989 and 1990) to win the event.

No racer had won more than four straight or five overall before Armstrong etched his dominance on the tour. His streak of six consecutive titles, coupled with his fight against cancer, has made him an international celebrity.

Just look at how many people are wearing “Livestrong” yellow wrist bracelets, commemorating the fight against cancer. Armstrong has since called the 10/2 anniversaries his “Carpe Diem Day.”

The Latin phrase means “seize the day,” reflective of Armstrong’s tenacious approach toward defending his titles six times.

“What it teaches is this: pain is temporary,” Armstrong said. “Quitting lasts forever.”

His miraculous comeback has not been without controversy. Armstrong has long been dogged by allegations of using performance-enhancing drugs, though he has never tested positive for any illegal substance. Armstrong did take one of the banned substances — EPO — to help in his recovery during his cancer treatment, but that was an approved medical use.

Citing family obligations, Armstrong announced his intentions to retire in April. He missed considerable time with his three children — a son (Luke) and twin daughters (Isabelle and Grace) — while training in Europe over the years.

“It’s time for me to not miss key moments in their lives,” he said then.

Assuming he retires on top, he will also share a few precious moments with a legion of fans cheering for him.

“I admire him because of consistent excellence,” Williams said. ” I used to do nothing but bicycle during the offseason because my knees were so bad. It pales in comparison to what he has risen to, but I know the pain I went through just to stay in shape.

“He’s the best in the world. Hopefully he will finish on top.”

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.