Tue | Feb 20, 2018

Tanya Lee | When to call it quits

Published:Friday | January 19, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Brazil's Ronaldinho

I woke up on Wednesday morning to see my instagram feed flooded with photos of the great Ronaldinho. My heart raced as I immediately assumed the worst had happened to my beloved Brazilian baller.

On closer inspection, the posts were salutations and goodbye messages as Ronaldinho had announced his retirement. Wait, what? Ronaldinho was still playing football? Apparently, and sadly, one of the biggest names in football history was forced to bow out of the sport after failing to secure a professional contract with any club, big or small, in over two years.

This brought me to think about the many highly accomplished athletes who, seemingly, didn't know when to call it quits. It is my view that the retirement of all top athletes must be carefully timed to ensure the preservation of their winning legacy. Any continuation in the sport after doing so runs the risk of tarnishing their legacy and leaving fans wanting less.

Kudos to Usain Bolt for bowing out of the Olympics before this became a reality. Floyd Mayweather also bowed out of boxing with an undefeated 50-0. Michael Johnson left the track in a blaze of glory, with his legacy unquestionable.

But what exactly would keep a highly accomplished athlete going after their twilight?

The biggest reason is probably financial as the endorsement deals and sport earnings stop immediately on retirement for many. For others, there is something about the 'warrior spirit' that keeps them wanting more of the glory days long after it becomes evident to fans that this is no longer likely.

Take Merlene Ottey, for example. Jamaica's original sprint queen has never officially announced her retirement and may still be racing down a track in Slovenia as we speak.

I watched with an equal sense of sadness as one of the greatest sprinters in Jamaica's Olympic and World Championships history, Veronica Campbell Brown, failed to make the final of the 200m at the 2016 Games. It makes me wonder what else could keep one of Jamaica's most decorated athletes of all time on the track.

While Veronica is highly unforgettable, she is now usurped in the consciousness of the average Jamaican fan by the likes of Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce and Elaine Thompson. Campbell Brown may never reach the heady heights she attained over the course of a decade of high-quality sprinting.

One of the truths of sport is that the athlete, who gets into the twilight of their career, if they were any good, is very likely close to some significant milestones.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul, for instance, with 11,867 runs, was on the cusp of becoming the West Indies' highest run scorer ever. Shiv would have usurped Brian Lara (11,953) if he continued a little longer, but the truth is, though still a formidable batsman, at the Test level, Shiv wasn't cutting it anymore after 21 years on the pitch. Being forced to retire is a sad way to go.

Speaking of a sad way to go, who can forget the greatest boxer of all time, Mohammed Ali.

 

OVERSHADOWED BY DEFEAT

 

The sheen on Ali's legacy was dulled by the many bouts he lost at the back-end of his career ,which may not only have contributed to his losses to weak opponents, but, some would argue, also accounted for some of his ill-health. We all know that Ali was beaten by Trevor Berbick, and while I'm Jamaican and highly patriotic, Ali and Berbick were simply not in the same class, and that result was a key indicator that Ali allowed his legacy to be overshadowed by defeat.

Bernard Hopkins' career spanned 28 years from 1988 to 2016 and is the truest reflection I've seen of when someone just doesn't know when to quit.

A 52-year-old Hopkins was literally boxed out of the ring with six unanswered punches that sent him flying straight through the ropes and unto the floor. Hopkins never made his way back into the ring in what should have been a celebratory farewell fight. Joe Smith's punches were too much to bear for Hopkins, and the entire fight was too much to bear for any fan.

All sports athletes should set lofty career goals, earn during the glory years, and secure lucrative investments to serve them well after the lights have been turned off.

- Tanya Lee is a Caribbean sports marketer, author, and publicist. Follow her @tanyattlee on Instagram.