Sports and the Afterlife: What happens when careers die?

Sports and the Afterlife: What happens when careers die?
October 10, 2012, 4:00 pm
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Do you believe in heaven?

No, wait. Dont answer that. At least not here. But if youre at all interested in that tiny little issue of what happens after we die, check out this story in Newsweek Magazine.

It was written by neurosurgeon (and former closet atheist) Dr. Eben Alexander, who had a near-death experience back in 2008 and now claims, with astonishing certainty and indirect neurological evidence, that heaven is not only a playground, a cornfield in Iowa and a monster ballad by Bryan Adams, but also a real thing.

He was there. Or so he says.

After reading, its up to you to decide whether Dr. Alexander has actually solved one of the life's great mysteries or is just a manipulative windbag, but either way, the story will make you think. When youre done, youll want forward it to your friends, troll through the comment section, maybe even mention it in a blog you write for a regional sports network. Then youll go back and think about it some more.

Anyway, after I carried out the steps above, it was time to get back to sports, but in this case, it was difficult. And there was really only one topic that made sense: The Sports Afterlife.

Not what happens to athletes after they die, but what happens after their careers do. When they're faced with an eternity outside of the only life they've ever known.

It's obviously a huge issue in the NFL, as former players are being haunted by all sorts of mental and physical issues, but I'm not touching that aspect of the conversation right now. For this post, I'm thinking about the mere act of walking away; about taking the podium the way Kevin Faulk did yesterday afternoon at Gillette and Jason Varitek, Tim Wakefield and Matt Light all did this past year and saying goodbye to your life as a professional athlete.

After all, for some of these guys, the concept of retirement is as terrifying as death itself.

"There's just not much else out there," Tom Brady said last week, when asked about how long he plans to play. "Other than my family, it's like the abyss, you know? There's nothing else."

It was a pretty morbid statement from the typically lighthearted, borderline-hokey QB, but you can understand where he's coming from. I mean, imagine you're 36 or 37 years old, and someone tells you that your greatest skill and ultimate passion in life no longer exists. Imagine you're a wildly successful artist who's now only allowed to help your child do paint-by-numbers. Imagine you're an accomplished saxophone player, who suddenly has all his instruments replaced by the plastic recorders they sell at Wal-Mart. Imagine how much that would suck.

And it does suck. While there's plenty to envy about the lives that these athletes live, I'd don't envy having to retire in your mid-to-late 30s and not just from a job, but from something that you absolutely love.

Of course, some athletes make a seamless transition into the afterlife. For instance, Rob Bradford has a story this morning on JD Drew, who to no one's surprise hasn't missed a beat since leaving baseball. But guys like Drew are in the minority. That's why we see so many athletes go into coaching or TV and bend over backwards to stay in the game. Not just for the limelight, but so they can still be apart of it; because it's the only life they want to live. I've made this comparison before, but it's like that old SNL skit with Tracy Morgan and Jim Breuer: "Wong and Owens, Ex Porn Stars." Sports is all they know!

It's funny, if you think back over the last five years in Boston sports, which three athletes would you say were the ones most criticized for not caring about the game, or not always trying as hard as they should?

Over the last few seasons, I guess Josh Beckett became the poster boy for that, but before him there are three names that stick out for me:

Rasheed Wallace, Manny Ramirez and Randy Moss.

Wallace retired in 2010. Manny retired in the spring of 2011. Moss retired later that summer.

Not one of them could stay away.

Manny's comeback with the A's failed, and he's since found God to help cope with his life after baseball.

Moss signed with the 49ers, and has been a near non-factor he's caught only nine balls in five games and was targeted only twice in Sunday's win over Buffalo. But while this used to equal a Moss Meltdown, this year he's (at least according to Jim Harbaugh) been a model teammate, a consummate pro.

And last month, Wallace signed with the Knicks. While we have no clue how it will turn out, or if Wallace will try any harder or be in any better shape than he was with the Celtics, it's obvious that life away from basketball wasn't right for him.

It didn't work for any of these guys. You can imagine how much the idea of retirement haunts guys like Brady.

Players like him don't need the afterlife. As far as they're concerned, this is already heaven.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine