Running On Empty

It’s been a week of seeing athletes look shockingly human. First, Andrew Luck’s heartbreaking retirement announcement, then Rob Gronkowski’s openness about what he went through to continue playing football, now Dustin Pedroia, rejoining the Red Sox today in Colorado, on crutches, to visit his teammates. All this, and it’s only Tuesday.

We don’t think of athletes as human beings. They don’t seem human; they’re made to seem superhuman. So we think of them in terms of their stat lines, soundbites, and career highlights. We don’t think of them as children to their parents, parents to their children, as spouses or friends, or people just like us.

So when they reveal that they are, in fact, people just like us, albeit physically faster and stronger, we are unable process the revelation. We think it’s up to us to tell them how to live their lives, how to dress and behave, how to vote, how to eat, how far to push their bodies. We listen to what they’re saying, but we do not hear them. And our reactions are often insensitive and childish at best, but often nasty and cruel, at worst.

Social media enables this. Hidden behind our screens, we forget that the people at whom we direct our most impulsive gut reactions are in fact people just like us. And how quickly we forget how hard these people have trained and played for our enjoyment. Somehow, it is never enough.

Former Patriot Martellus Bennett said it best in a Twitter thread earlier this week:

Dustin Pedroia is with the Red Sox today in Colorado. He’s not rejoining the team. No, he’s on crutches after yet another surgery; this is just a pit-stop on his way to see his doctor in Vail. I’ve been wondering about what he will do when the brace comes off and the rehabbing begins, and he eventually has to officially decide what’s next. Will he attempt another comeback or two, or will he decide that enough is enough? And when he does, will fans remember him as the man who helped us win three World Series and numerous division titles, was Rookie of the Year and MVP, and played through as many injuries as he could before realizing that no man can outrun their own pain? Or will he be mocked, scorned, and belittled by angry so-called fans who would never have had the fortitude themselves to fight the way he has? Plenty of Sox “fans” have been calling for his head for a year or so already. How quickly we forget.

I’m guilty of this myself. I used to be so hard on David Price, and then one day, I realized how hard it must be to struggle at your job in front of your boss and millions of people. And when that job has been your dream for most of your life, you’re only giving it up if you have to, if it has broken you so badly that the only cure is walking away.

I’m grateful to these athletes for reminding us that they’re human. It’s a healthy dose of perspective, even if it comes in the form of a bitter pill. There is so much more to life than sports, as there should be. When an athlete tells the world that they don’t have anything left in the tank, it’s time to thank them, and let them go live the full life they deserve.


Photo: Grace Hollars / IndyStar

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