AAMOF

First Death of an Athlete

I was a member of a college faculty and staff intramural basketball team—that went undefeated one year! The team was a collection of former athletes who went on to professional (academic) careers. One member, an educator and nationally recognized sport’s sculptor, created the team’s mascot, The Flying Armadillos (wish I still had one of those T-shirt jerseys). This was in the 80’s.

Dr. David Sears and a group of us would have post-game conversations on topics that included The Death of an Athlete. The concept involved the first death of an athlete: “There’s an oft-repeated phrase in sports, its recurrence having washed away its origin, but the premise is this: Athletes die twice, and the first death comes in retirement.” Since that phrase is oft repeated and its origin washed away, I could get by without surrounding it with quotes. But, I needed to establish its legitimacy so I found in it here: The First Death of an Athlete, by Sam Riches [https://psmag.com/the-first-death-of-an-athlete-256257503fbc#.ocdnazugc].

This first death of an athlete is not about an athlete dying young (Alfred Edward Housman), but rather about an athlete who does not die young but is forced to become something other than an athlete—the first death.

The Journey to Next, the next you, is an emotional journey to a new self-identity. It usually involves some wandering around, some getting lost, some dead ends, some u-curves, some bit of time. This first death is not unique to athletes. They get a lot of attention because they get a lot of press. This first death happens to most professionals when they get ejected from their professional job. This death happens to many who retire—retirement involves a period of refocusing sense of self.

My concept is that professionals in search of work is simultaneously a search for worth. And, given the short(ened) length of employment tenure, this (first) death of an athlete/professional becomes a second and third death. Like cats, we use up up to nine lives.

A recent posting of an athlete’s prepared remarks at a press conference embodied the thoughts and feelings that flood the mind of an athlete experiencing a first death. The article, worth the read and reread of anyone experiencing loss of job and worth the read and reread of any coach/counselor, is: “Tony Romo’s deep, emotional message might make you cry,” [http://www.msn.com/en-us/sports/nfl/tony-romos-deep-emotional-message-might-make-you-cry/ar-AAklAs9?li=BBnb7Kz].

While there is much I agree with, I do take exception to his statement that this concept and his expressed feelings and emotions are “what separates sports from everything else”—not true to my experience and the experiences of my comrades and clients.

However, I do particularly like his concluding thought: “Lastly, I just want to leave you with something I’ve learned in this process, as well. I feel like we all have two battles, with two enemies going on: one with the man across from you; the second is with the man inside of you. I think once you control the one inside of you, the one across from you really doesn’t matter. And I think that’s what we’re all trying to do.”

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