As our body slowly morphs into a more unified shape while the definition that once cut through every muscle fades away, the athlete cannot help but hate the reflection that shames them in the mirror. Once defined by undeniable achievement, the athlete is left wondering what satisfaction could supplement the lost feeling of purpose.
A life once ruled by the bounce of a ball is now determined by our own passion and determination. But our greatest passion just rejected us quicker than we anticipated. Like a bouncer that welcomes you into a nightclub only to yank you out when you weren't ready to go, we are left wondering what makes up the core of who we are going forward. Although sports are nothing more than a game, to those that played, it is our way of life. How do we motivate ourselves for a life that we consider normal?
Fans foolishly misplace their sense of worth on bodies they don't cultivate, only to berate another human for not performing an astronomical physical feat to perfection. They are cancer to the life of an athlete; their criticism often disguised as support.
Few understand the destruction they cause in the life of an athlete by being so critical of each imperfection. Imagine every time someone made a minor accounting error and people in the office building next door stood outside the window and called the accountant a moron. Many people question why athletes have such a hard time letting go of the game we love. However, they forget that they often define us by our athleticism as if it is our only contribution to civilization. As we attempt to reintegrate back into society, people wonder why we are caught up in the past. But they forget that people made our worth synonymous with our athletic success. Now we wonder what makes us valuable.
When were we ever told what we had done was enough? Our lives have been constructed on the principle that enough is not enough. Tom Brady has six Super Bowl rings and people argue he is a system quarterback. LeBron James could break every NBA record and everyone would still say, "Yeah, but he's not Michael." What an athlete does will never be good enough to satisfy the unforgiving devotion a fan has for his or her team. The sad part is that the fan has no reason to act as if they have some justification for demanding perfection from an organization where they are not an employee. It would be the same as a building janitor booing the sales staff from the company on the third floor because they blew the sale. They are nothing more than observers to men and women putting their bodies on the line out of their devotion for greatness. Fans are nothing more than bystanders to individual determination. That is how meaningless fans are in sports.
And yet athletes still desire the praise of a fan. We are raised to long for others approval in sports. We want our coach to approve of our play. We want people to notice our success. And for many, we long to make our parents proud. But we forgot that our success is nothing more than a vessel through which a million other people can live vicariously through us. They criticize us because our failure in some convoluted way is their failure. Their identity is misplaced and we are the victims.
We are built to be observed and to satisfy the demands of all those watching. But when the uniform hangs in the closet and the next wave of athletes are satisfying demands better than we ever could, we are left wondering if we have any value at all.
All that time I spent trying to make others happy. To win others approval. I didn't even get to enjoy the game I love. And now I am left missing what I could have become. And I am left wondering where God is in all this mess. I'm not an athlete. I'm not a hero. I'm not a spouse. And I'm still not sure.
Who am I?