- Jeff MacGregor
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Urban Meyer's bizarre 11-minute retirement last weekend may have set the dizzy new standard for hastily contrived, poorly presented career decisions. With all due respect to the coach and his family and to the genuine difficulty of living a life in the public eye, the handling of his on-again, off-again retirement/leave of absence/sabbatical/wanderjahr was like something out of a screwball comedy.
In fact, I half expect that by the time I've finished typing, Mr. Meyer will have changed course yet again, in the Hollywood manner of a madcap heiress.
So if he's coaching at Notre Dame when you read this -- or soldiering in the French Foreign Legion or meditating at an ashram in Sonoma or suffering amnesia on a yacht in the Mediterranean or swearing a televised oath that he'll, by God, never go hungry or touch another football again as long as he lives -- forgive me for saying so, but these past few days have seemed more Carole Lombard than Vince Lombardi.
So let's be honest here for a second: If a movie star had pulled the same thing, or a musician or even a football player, we'd all be talking about how inconstant, how flighty and selfish and scatterbrained he was. As fickle as a schoolgirl! How insulting to the rest of us, with our brutal low-wage jobs and our rotten economy and our tenuous incomes and our hardscrabble realities!
But it's Urban Meyer, the football coach. And this is America, the nation a little too deeply in thrall to the strategic, tactical and moral importance of football. The complexity! It's like Socrates playing full-contact chess against Confucius or something! Bang! Pow! Boom! So instead of mocking him we're talking about Meyer's late display of theatrical indecision with the kind of self-serious and melodramatic gravity usually reserved for whispering about popes or presidents or Brad and Angelina.
Don't get me wrong, everyone everywhere has the right to be ridiculous and the right to change his mind. (A related aside to the holiday weekend media here: when writing/posting/talking/tweeting about someone suffering cardiac anxiety and fearful of dropping dead from a massive infarction of the valentine, "Change of Heart" -- as sly a pun as it may seem to the wised-up ninth-grade reader -- might not be your best headline. Even as payback for a ruined holiday. As was in evidence everywhere Sunday evening.)
But I must be honest with you, reader.
The fact is that this whole story and the telling of it has left me drained. I am physically and mentally and emotionally exhausted. So, after a great deal of personal soul searching, and a series of very frank and loving discussions with my entire family, please excuse me while I retire. I'm spent.
It's been fun. Thank you. I know you'll understand.
Because you've always been here for me.
And I see that you're here for me still. My sabbatical, though only a single sentence long, has been very refreshing. I watched my children grow up, took a graduate degree from the London School of Economics and swam the Erie Canal. I'm back now with a full beard, a new perspective on my personal spirituality and the brevity of life's bright gift, and a contract renegotiated at three times the prior money. Thus renewed, I look forward to writing this next sentence, then indulging the brief leave of absence sure to follow it.
That felt good.
This time I shaved my head, bought a Vespa, rented a loft downtown, undertook an apprenticeship in cabinetmaking and learned to play the zither. I am reborn.
Used to be that folks just worked until they dropped in the furrow behind the mule. This tearful, tiresome new 21st century business of surprise retirement and unretirement seems to have us all vexed. It's everywhere all of a sudden. Maybe it's a Baby Boom thing. A vanity. Maybe not. In any case, no one's very good at it.
Athletes certainly never have been. But I can at least understand poor old Joe Louis or poor old Jack Johnson. Try to get out. Retire/unretire. They were broke. They needed the money.
But what we're talking about now is just ego. Or boredom. Or a failure of imagination.
Until today, no one in any field anywhere has managed to recycle himself with less grace or good humor than Brett Favre -- a friendly, likeable, talented 40-year-old football player with the impulse control of a high school sophomore on her fourth Red Bull. As resolute in his commitments as a vinyl siding salesman, he has at least managed to lower the bar for compulsive indecision by everyone else.
Thus, Lance Armstrong's return to big-time cycling seemed positively stately in comparison. Benjamin Disraeli at the head of the peloton. As did last week's announcement that Michael Schumacher was returning to the Grand Prix.
Schummi, the best known athlete on the planet everywhere but America, has unretired himself, and at 41 years old will return to save Formula 1 next season by driving for the new Mercedes team.
A seven-time world champion, Schumacher is inarguably the greatest racing driver who ever lived. And perhaps the least interesting. Having spent time with him everywhere from Spain to Indiana, I can tell you that while he is a deadly competitor and an amazing athlete and a loving husband and father, he is as dull a technocrat as Germany has ever produced.
As flamboyant and rakish as the cork-helmet ancients like Juan Manuel Fangio or Alberto Ascari seemed, Schumacher is predictable and tidy and drab, square-jawed and dependable and unbending.
He is a right angle in a world full of curves.
There will be no surprises.
And I, on the brink of my next retirement, look forward to that.
Jeff MacGregor is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. Please continue to submit your answers to his question "What Are Sports For?" You can e-mail him at email@example.com.
1dMarc Stein and Ramona Shelburne