and football season is upon us again. (NB: when I say “football” I mean the version with the helmets where they use their hands. And usually with 100 yard fields and 11 players, though Carrie and I are exploring the possibility of a relationship with the CFL).
So, we’re watching the games yesterday and the FOX announcers keep saying that former coach and Fox personality Jimmy Johnson “really ripped into Ricky Williams” in the pregame show. For those who don’t know, Williams was a star running back for Miami who decided to retire rather than continue playing, despite being at the top of his game. He joins a group of African American running backs who retired at the top of their careers: Robert Smith (who has since come out as an atheist and written a book) and Barry Sanders (who was inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer and still won’t apologize for quitting). Williams always hated the publicity that came with the job (some say due to social anxiety disorder), and on top of that, he was on his way to setting a record for carrying the ball. Which means that he probably would have been unable to walk at age 50. Williams is going to travel the world and eventually wants to teach kindergarten or otherwise work with kids.
What’s stunning to me is the sense of betrayal from Johnson and others (some articles actually Williams’ retirement a dumb or inexplicable move), like Williams owed them more time. It may be the case that he owes Miami some money, but he had no moral obligation to continue playing. The howls of agony from sport personalities all over the US confirm that they still believe ultimately players have no right to determine their own lives. And part of me, of course, wonders if there isn’t also a racial undertone to it all.