Athletes Are People, Too

Jeremiah Short, Featured Columnist

Anguish. Trepidation. Heartbreak. Loss. Exuberance. Tension. Excitement.

All a range of emotions the average person deals with on a daily, weekly and yearly basis. Another class of people deal with these emotions, too: athletes. With the early retirements of Jason Worilds, Jake Locker, Maurice Jones-Drew and Patrick Willis, I was reminded of this reality.

It comes as shock when any athlete retires before their time. We have vivid memories of an old Muhammad Ali being a shell of his former self or Michael Jordan’s ill-fated comeback with the Wizards.

But rarely do we see great athletes retire while they’re on top or in good health. Jim Brown, Barry Sanders and Rocky Marciano are notable exceptions.

If Larry Sanders informal retirement from the NBA is added to the equation, five professional athletes have retired prematurely for a variety of reasons in the past month.

Sanders(26). Anxiety and depression.

Worilds(27). Focus on his faith.

Locker(26). Lost his passion for the game.

Drew(29). Focusing on next chapter of his life.

Willis(30). Bad feet and new-found faith.

We ask: Why did they give up so much money? 70-80 million of potential earnings.  But we have to realize athletes are people, too.

As Kevin Durant opined last month during NBA All-Star weekend, they aren’t “robots.”

I’m not here to condemn those who view athletes through the wrong prism. I do it, too. I did it this week when the news first broke that Patrick Willis was retiring to focus on his Christian walk. As a lifelong 49er fan, I selfishly wanted Willis to play a few more years and even questioned him retiring for religious reasons.

How selfish of me to think that way. For one, I’m a Christian who’s questioning another person wanting to be a better Christian. Two, if Willis doesn’t want to play football anymore, it’s his right.

This isn’t the point in the column where I’ll go on a diatribe apologizing for every athlete’s behavior. They aren’t infallible and do mess up. But we have to take a step back and consider what they’re going through on a minute-by-minute, day-by-day basis.

We don’t think about the college athlete who may be the first person in their family who’s gone to college and the pressure that’s on them to succeed.

We don’t think about the athlete who’s carrying the weight of their whole community on their back.

We don’t think about the athletes who are trying to raise a child while balancing school and practice.

We don’t think about the black athletes who don’t know if they should be socially conscious or protect their endorsements.

We don’t think about the homosexual athlete who has to struggle with keeping their sexual preference a secret because they don’t want the backlash.

We don’t think about the female athlete struggling with gender identity because sports are supposed to be a male thing.

We don’t think about the male athlete who gets falsely accused of rape and has his reputation tarnished because he didn’t want to date a girl.

We really don’t think about the athletes who don’t know if people are there for them because they’re an athlete or because they truly value them.

Now that’s tough.

Imagine how Eric Striker, an Oklahoma Sooner linebacker, felt when he heard the racist SAE chant. He was angered and hurt by the situation.

Disclaimer: Vulgar language in both videos.

Athletes are routinely hurt, though. Sometimes hurt by those close to them.

Take Tyrone Smith, a Dallas Cowboys left tackle, for example: Smith agreed to pay his family a set amount when he signed his rookie contract. After he paid that amount, his family harassed him for more money. It got to the point where he needed a restraining order against his parents. Sadly, many athletes have to deal with similar situations.

There’s always someone out for a piece of what you got. And the athletes feel obligated to give it to them. They might be family. They might be close friends. They might be someone who has taken a charge for them.

They’re targets. Targets because of the money they have or are about to have.

Ask Dak Prescott, who is Mississippi State’s starting quarterback and future NFL Draft pick. He was trying to enjoy spring break in Panama City. As he left a concert, he was jumped and hit over the head with a bottle. He was fine. But what if he wasn’t. What if his career was ended? That’s a team’s whole season down the drain. Those are millions of dollars lost.

For what? Because someone didn’t like what he said to them. Prescott’s career was almost ended for nothing. Not on the field of play or a car accident. His career was almost ended because he attended a concert during his final spring break as a college student and a group of hoodlums decided to jump him and brag about it.

That’s what athletes have to deal with every day.

To make matters worse, if Prescott throws an interception in a key game next season, he’ll get death threats from fans and get scrutinized by the media.

Dak the player would have messed up. No one will stop ask how Dak the person is doing.

That’s not right.

Athletes are people, too.

Catch me on the “SportsKrib” on Wednesday’s 8-9 Central and Thursday’s 8-10 Central. Follow me on social media @DaRealJShort or check out my facebook page JShortJournalist or my Google Plus page J.Short- Journalist.


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