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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Wednesday, June 11, 2008 - Love it or Hate it...Retiring On Top

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Love it or Hate it...Retiring On Top


By Sarah Spain
Love of Sports Correspondent

Jim Brown did it young. Michael Jordan did it twice. Vince Young has thought about it, and Brett Favre may or may not have done it yet.

At some point, every athlete must retire. Some pros hang up their cleats due to old age, some are forced into it because of injury and sometimes the world's best just don't have the heart or the head for it anymore.

Recently, several athletes have called it quits at the top of their game.

The world's top-ranked female tennis player, Justine Henin, retired a few weeks ago at the ripe old age of 25. Henin spent more than 100 weeks ranked 1, but in mid-May she told her agent, "I've won everything I need to win. I have more money than I can use in three lifetimes, and I don't have the will to play one day more."

Henin's sudden announcement came right on the heels of a similar statement by Annika Sorenstam.

"I'm leaving the game on my own terms," said Sorenstam of retiring at the end of this season. "I have other priorities … I'm happy, content and at peace."

The winner of 72 LPGA events and a record eight LPGA Player of the Year awards had won her third tournament of the season just days before her announcement.

Earlier this week, world welterweight champ Floyd Mayweather, Jr. called it quits for the third — and what most believe will be the last — time. The former Olympic medalist and undefeated five-time champion was as dominant as ever in his recent bouts, but said of his decision, "[the] past few years [it has] been extremely difficult for me to find the desire and joy to continue in the sport."

On Monday, two more greats announced they had played their last games.

Legendary NHL goalie Dominik Hasek announced he was hanging up his skates just five days after his Red Wings won the Stanley Cup. Many consider Hasek, the first goalie to become a two-time MVP, a first-ballot Hall of Famer. While Hasek's younger platoon-mate Chris Osgood was the hero in this year's playoffs, the man known as the "Dominator" told reporters his decision wasn't affected by his recent playing time.

Like Henin and Mayweather, Hasek attributed his decision to a lack of passion.

"I don't feel today that I'm ready to compete on the highest level," Hasek said during a press conference. "Not because of the physical things, but because I need motivation every day … Right now, I don't feel it's there, and I don't want to disappoint anybody."

Across the country, another champion said goodbye to the game he'd devoted his life to. Mere months after his New York Giants stunned the New England Patriots in one of the most historic upsets in NFL history, Michael Strahan announced his retirement. The seven-time Pro Bowler and NFL record-holder for single-season sacks showed no signs of slowing down last season, his 15th in the league.

With a Super Bowl ring on his finger and a final game that seems nearly impossible to best, Strahan can truly say he's leaving the game of football as a champion.

"He retired at the top of his game," said Strahan's teammate and friend Osi Umenyiora. "A lot of us don't get the chance to do that."

A.E. Housman's famous poem "To An Athlete Dying Young" speaks to the appeal of bidding farewell with your name still in lights and your records unbroken.

"Smart lad to slip betimes away/From fields where glory does not stay/And early though the laurel grows/It withers quicker than the rose."

But is it really best for athletes to say goodbye with the metaphorical laurel wreath still fresh upon their heads? Are fans ever really satisfied if they know their heroes could've laced 'em up for a few more years?

And what of those who seem to overstay their welcome? Many thought Jordan's years in Washington somehow took away some of the glory of his final season with the Bulls. I personally believe M.J. earned the right to play as long as he wanted, provided his love for the game and his competitive desire remained. That's not to say I would've minded if his last shot had been that game winner in Utah, though.

So, the best of the best must choose: leave at the height of their career, or leave when they're satisfied they've given all they could.

Strahan and Hasek left as champions, but both could have returned in search of the elusive repeat. Was the time right for the two greats to move on, or were there more sacks to be had and more saves to be made?

Are you loving or hating the retirement of two of this generation's best?


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