I feel sorry for New York Islanders’ captain Doug Weight because he, like about a billion other athletes before him, has failed to correctly answer the question, “When should I retire?” According to reports, the 39-year old Weight has signed a one-year contract to continue playing for the New York Islanders in 2010-11. Last year, as the Islanders’ captain, Weight made, with bonuses, US$2.2M. To earn that 2.2 mil, Weight scored exactly one goal in 36 games. He missed 46 with torn labrum and rotator cuff injuries. Doug, it was time to say goodbye – but you blew it. Why can’t athletes figure this out?
I get that they have been incredibly talented players with every single team for which they’ve ever suited up. When they played growing up, they were better than every other player on all their teams. Weight, for example, will never, ever make even close to two mil-a-year in any other job he ever does. But, for Pete’s sakes, look around, Doug. You’re done. What more do you have to do?
Well, let’s check off the list. Have you won a Stanley Cup? Yes, you have. In 2006, your Carolina Hurricanes took the Edmonton Oilers in a seven-game Stanley Cup Final. Sadly, you missed the end of that series with – wait for it – an injury. And I love the story of how you spent your day with the Stanley Cup. http://bit.ly/ahuxDG.
Let’s see, what else would be on that list? You played your first NHL game for the Rangers in the 1991 Stanley Cup Playoffs. That’s a long time. How about 1,000 career points…do you have that? Hey, you have! On January 2, 2009, you became just the eighth American-born NHLer to reach 1,000 that night in Phoenix. If you’ve got 1,000 points, you must also have played 1,000 games. Yep. 1,220. That puts you in the top 75 all time. Guess what, Doug? You are done.
But Weight is like so many other athletes, not just NHL players. I shake my head when I think about Montréal Canadiens’ legend Guy Lafleur, who retired in 1984 then, four years later, made a comeback with the New York Rangers and Québec Nordiques. Pitiful to watch.
Many great players are taken from the game early by injury. Bobby Orr is the biggest name in that group, but Mike Bossy is right up there. And a very, very rare few actually retire a bit early. Ken Dryden comes to mind immediately. In the NFL, Detroit Lions’ running back Barry Sanders left the game in the summer of 1999, when he was just 30 years old, and poised to become the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. Tough-as-nails Cleveland Browns’ star Jim Brown retired after just nine NFL seasons. The Sporting News voted him the greatest professional football player ever. Brown was just 28 when he walked away and began a career as an actor – The Dirty Dozen, Any Given Sunday and way too many television appearances to list.
A small handful have walked away early. A small handful walk away at the right time. A larger group have injuries show them the door. Don’t worry, Doug, you’re not alone in being unable to recognize when to put on a suit, shed a few tears, thank “Smitty” and “MacT” and “Roddy” and say goodbye. But guess what, Doug, that day’s coming – whether you want it to or not.