Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What Happens When the Cheering Stops?

I'm not sure where this series is going, but this is a kick in the pants:

At least once every few days, someone walks into Findlay Toyota in Henderson, Nev., spots the 6-foot-8 car salesman with the familiar face and wonders, "Is that Ed O'Bannon, the former UCLA star and NBA flameout?" Yes, it is.

Ouch! How'd you like your pals to read that back to you over the phone?

Anyway, the Washington Post is doing a series on "These Athletes Retired as Multimillionaires, But Has Money Bought Them Happiness?" and it goes into the struggles and choices of some familiar names and faces.

Here's an excerpt from the piece about Bret Boone:

Bret Boone's 2008 comeback attempt with the Washington Nationals, after two full seasons out of the game, may have been born into a world of wealth and tranquillity -- a world made possible by a total of nearly $50 million he earned in his career -- but it was spawned from darkness. From the descent into the hell of alcoholism and the climb back out. From primal urges -- conquering demons, proving something to oneself, gaining closure.

If the athlete's playing career is life, and retirement is death, Boone -- or at least the ghost of him that showed up in 2008 -- refused to go into that good night until his career was given a proper burial.

"I struggled for that 18-month period where I was just kind of lost," Boone, now 40, says. "Your whole life, [baseball] is . . . not exactly what defines you -- but it's all I've done my whole life. You're Bret Boone, the second baseman, and all of a sudden you're not that guy anymore."

In all but a few pockets of the country that still cared about Bret Boone, the news went by in barely noticed flashes on a television screen or small headlines in a newspaper, stretched across a time frame that, in the mind's eye, could have been weeks or years: March 2006 -- Bret Boone Retires. February 2008 -- Bret Boone Making Comeback. April 2008 -- Bret Boone Retires Again.

But when it's your life and your career, it can consume you. The comeback lasted all of two months, encompassing one final spring training in Viera, Fla., and exactly 13 games in Columbus, Ohio, at the time the home of the Nationals' Class AAA affiliate, where Boone found the answers he sought and buried his career the proper way -- with dignity and finality.

"I had some closure," he says of that spring, when he hit .261 and played passable defense at second base for the Columbus Clippers, but walked away before the Nationals could call him up. "I could still play. I wasn't going to be what I used to be, but I could compete. I knew where I was. And I was okay with it."

It's interesting to consider the wealth being a fixed number, and then thinking of it as a lump sum paid to the players. That's, of course, not the case at all. This is money they were paid, and then everyone came for their cut, and they probably spent a good share of it thinking another bigger payday was around the corner.

Seven million dollars sounds like a lot of money, but when you get past buying three Bentleys for your moms--one for church, one for the store, one for going to the beauty parlor--it adds up quickly. I don't know if anyone has ever had to buy 3 Bentleys for their mother, but I can assure you, it's a pain in the neck to find a dealer with three identical ones on the lot.

UPDATE: Go check out for more information on coping with post-sports issues.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I agree - money is just a vehicle. Wealth is what you create with it, not buy with it.
    It's too bad that so many athletes achieve their biggest goals and yet, are unhappy or depressed. I went through similar pains after competing in 2000 Olympics and I didn't even have the money to drown my sorrows in.
    Sport needs to fit into a larger picture for athletes to do better with life after sport. Preparation, new goals and a new way to feel significant (perhaps through contribution) make a difference to successful retirement.