Open Mic: Why Retirement No Longer Means Forever

Adam LindemerSenior Analyst IJuly 23, 2008

The hardest decision an athlete can make is when they should retire or consider retirement. Many factors go through their minds at this moment, and only the athlete themselves know the right answer.

Of course, when they actually do retire, the question that always pops up is, "Did I make the right choice?"

Some realize that they simply can't play anymore and knew it was time to hang up the cleats/shoes/skates/whatever. While others ponder the fact that they know they still can compete and their endless love of the game is still there.

I can't talk about every single player who retired because that would take forever, so I'll just highlight the ones that are fresh in my mind.

A lot of athletes have no choice but retirement, where injuries force them to leave their respective sports.

Troy Aikman and Steve Young had to retire earlier than they wanted to from the NFL because they were just too banged up. Most NFL players leave the sport too early because of all the hitting that takes place.

Some athletes leave because they are sick of losing and watching management do nothing to change the fact. I'm going to stick in the NFL for this.

Barry Sanders left the Detroit Lions way too early because he never went deep into the playoffs. He needed help and simply wasn't getting it.

Sanders wanted a trade out of Motown so he could have a chance to win somewhere else. The Lions were not going to trade one of the best running backs in the game, so Sanders called it quits.

Walter Payton said, "Looking for a trade is the coward's way out." So, I think of Sanders as a little bit of a coward due to his situation.

Nowadays, NFL players are trying to stay in the league as long as they can because of the whole ‘retired players getting absolutely zip' once retirement kicks in. But some just don't know when to leave.

Case in point, Brett Favre and Joe Montana. Two of the best quarterbacks/players ever, but they may have overstayed their welcome.

Did anyone like the fact that they had to see Montana in a Kansas City Chiefs jersey? Yes, the 49ers wanted to see what backup Steve Young had, and past on Montana, seeing that he had put in his well earned time in the league.

Favre is headed right in the same direction. The Packers want to see what Aaron Rodgers can do and are looking like they are going to pass on Favre (even though he announced his retirement to the world).

They see that his timecard is full enough, and he no longer needs to prove anything to anybody but himself.

That is another reason why players can't stay at home. They want to prove to themselves and themselves only that they can still play.

Nobody has doubts that Favre can still throw 30 TD's in a season and win games, and everybody knows that Michael Strahan can still knock the quarterback on his backside. They don't need to prove anything else to us fans.

Some still get the 'itch' and want to play, for self gratification, and the fact that they get bored with retirement real quick.

All this talk about athletes staying retired or not, and no mention of Michael Jordan. Well, here we go.

Jordan won three straight NBA titles with the Bulls and all of a sudden quit to play baseball. My feeling is that the decision had to do a lot with his father, who had recently passed away at the time. His dad loved and played baseball himself.

He played America's pastime and realized that he had more fun on the court, (or maybe the way it happened in Space Jam is right), and came back to the Bulls. He again won three straight titles for Chicago and retired afterward...again.

If he had stayed the first time, the Bulls could have easily won eight consecutive championships. Then the old SNL skit would have been right when one of Bob Swerski's pals predicted an unbelievable 'eight-peat'.

Jordan contemplated making a second comeback and finally did with the Washington Wizards, (a team in which he had part ownership but had to give up to play).

At the age of 40, Jordan came back to prove to himself that he still had the ability to play with the young guys. If you watched him closely, you saw that the ability was no longer there for the full 48 minutes.

So, when is it time to let the game go?

I think Phil Simms summed it up pretty well when he said, "When you first think about retirement, play three more years than quit." That's probably the smartest thing Simms has ever said since his retirement.

It also may be time to go when the game itself no longer wants or needs you. And if these players were smart, they would know exactly when that time comes.