Skip to main content
Original Issue

Goodbye...For Now When it comes to retirement, there's almost no quit in today's sports figures

No word more richly deserved retirement than retirement. But
retirement will never enjoy one, for retirement died at its desk
last week, overworked and underappreciated. The word (descended
from the French retirer, "to draw back") had appeared drawn of
late, and this month it suffered a ghoulish series of setbacks.
Retirement was often abused in recent years, and in the end, its
life had lost all meaning.

Who delivered the fatal blow? Language police have several
suspects, among them:

--KEITH JACKSON, 71, who a year ago announced his retirement
from broadcasting, effective at the end of the '98 college
football season. Week after week last fall Jackson received
lavish media send-offs from (among many others) GQ, USA Today,
ABC Sports and--in a moving first-person essay published in
SPORTS ILLUSTRATED--himself. Last week ABC let slip that Jackson
will return to the booth this fall for another season of college
football, doing Pac-10 games and the Rose Bowl. And retirement
suddenly got the sniffles.

--LARRY HOLMES, 49, who on Friday night engaged in a
handbag-swinging contest with another old lady, 46-year-old
James (Bonecrusher) Smith, a man whose nickname is apparently a
sly reference to his own osteoporosis. The "fight" (in which
Holmes prevailed on an eighth-round TKO) was a pay-per-view
perversion billed as the Legends of Boxing, with the
AARP-sanctioned main event featuring two men with more gold
watches between them than you can shake a walking stick at. And
retirement began coughing convulsively.

--BORIS BECKER, 31, who was the subject of international praise
for the class and dignity he displayed in bidding a timely auf
Wiedersehen to Wimbledon last July. "I feel free," Becker said
after announcing his retirement from the tournament. Well, like
a sprung felon unable to cope with life outside prison, Becker
returned this week to play Wimbledon yet again. And retirement
drew up its will.

--MICHAEL JORDAN, 36, who, when it comes to retirement, has
retired the trophy. Already in his young life Jordan has retired
from basketball, retired from baseball and re-retired from
basketball so as to retire from public life. Last year, sentient
beings will recall, his indecision regarding retirement made for
an endless, coy and highly uninteresting will-I-or-won't-I
Japanese fan dance. Naturally, last week the Internet's largest
off-shore bookmaker made Jordan a 5-to-6 shot to
un-re-retire--to detire? to rehire?--and play for new Los
Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson. (Posted odds were even money
that MJ will not return.) And, with a soft wail, retirement said
goodbye to its loved ones.

All of these retirement recidivists are not exactly dishonest,
mind you, and besides, if you can't deceive the press, who can
you head-fake? When New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine is
ejected from a game and then captured on TV, in the dugout,
wearing an eye-black mustache, then casually tells reporters
that it wasn't him, he means, of course, that it was. When New
York Knicks president Dave Checketts repeatedly tells reporters
that he didn't speak to Phil Jackson about coaching the Knicks,
he means, of course, that he did.

And when a professional athlete calls a press conference to say
"Hello, I must be going," he means, increasingly, "Goodbye, I
must be coming."

Two weeks ago, after winning the French Open, Steffi Graf, 30,
said she had "definitely" played her last match at Roland
Garros. In which case, so long, Steffi. And see you next year.