October 13th, 2010

Why Do Sportswriters Want to Force Older Athletes Out the Door?

Yesterday in the New York Times, Bill Rhoden used an entire column to publicly lament the fact that Brett Favre didn’t have the decency to retire from the NFL before his legacy was tarnished.  That led Slate‘s Jack Shafer to point out how all too many sportswriters seem to want to push older athletes out the door and into their dotage.

Then again, maybe not everyone feels that way.  All the way back in 2002, I wrote the following when more than a few reporters were telling Mark Messier it was time to hang up the skates:

When you get to the point where Messier is in his career, it isn’t long before you start to hear calls for retirement from sports writers who never spent a moment of their lives upright on a pair of skates with a stick in their hands. We begin to hear calls for protecting the "legacy" of one’s career, and not wanting to sully the "memory" of their greatness with a few sub-par seasons during the time when there are fewer days ahead than behind.

Well, screw that. If Messier wants to play, I hope he does until Rangers management has to pry the skates off his cold, dead feet. And if that means some punk in the Rangers farm system needs to cool his heels, or more likely, work that much harder to break into the NHL, then fine by me too. Messier is simply one of the greatest ever to play the game, and every day he’s with us, the league is better off. Welcome back Mark, even if it is for only one more year.

As it would turn out, Messier would play for two more seasons, driving Rangers management batty in the process as his decision made doling out ice time all the more problematic. But the point still holds—Messier went out on his own terms and his own schedule, not one dictated by a sportswriter looking to fill some extra column inches.

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