Should the best have the right to hang it up early?
By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Dec. 2013
End with a bang, finish on top, and leave the audience wanting more; they might all be clichés, but any athlete, performer, and business professional who says they want their career to peter out and end with a little whimper is a liar. It’s tempting to push the limits of our achievements and it’s even more tempting to ride off into the sunset early—but what does it really mean to retire as champion and be the undisputed, undefeated best of the best? Some might refer to that scenario as the ideal end to a beautiful career, but I consider it selfish, lazy, and inconsiderate.
At UFC 167, Canadian welterweight champion George St. Pierre kept his title against number one contender Johny Hendricks. After the controversial match, St. Pierre announced that he would be taking a long hiatus from the sport. Fans, management, and opposition were outraged by the news, even though St. Pierre admitted to needing time to deal with his own personal problems—few had sympathy for one of the best pound-for-pound MMA fighters in the world.
A title is a responsibility, regardless of the job. If you don’t want to perform the job any more, you don’t deserve the title. An actor wouldn’t audition for a role and then drop it as soon as they got cast. A qualified business manager who gets hired and then decides to quit, leaving the company in the lurch, is disrespectful and classless. The same goes for professional MMA fighters. If you win, you’d better be ready to defend. Now, I admit not being allowed the option to step away gracefully and having to be pummelled until retirement may seem a bit cruel, but aren’t we all struggling through life? I’m not saying every occupation should end with a five-round bout in the octagon, but there should be some sort of closure—especially if you’re the best.
Some believe being washed-up or a has-been is a tarnishing trait to a respectful professional, but I believe it’s the only honest way to pass the torch; to truly know if the successor is deserving of the reverence that comes with the title. Eventually the apprentice will defeat the master; that is just the way of life. In the animal kingdom we often see the alpha male being usurped by a younger individual. The only honourable thing for the aging animal to do is to stand its ground or flee in disgrace of the community it helped build.
I fear we have put certain public figures on too high of a pedestal and that is wrong. We have made false idols out of these talented people and the idea of treating them like normal humans is considered blasphemy. A person withholding their talents from society is similar to theft. They’re taking something of great value away from the world, and that is not okay.
World-class athletes, performers, and business professionals already get treated like kings. There is no doubt that their egos often cloud their judgment, causing them to be more concerned with their reputations than with their actual roles as influencers. Sure, it might be better for the self-esteem to go out on top, but it’s better for the self-image to admit defeat and shake hands with the next generation. If I may quote a line from The Dark Knight’s Harvey Dent, “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Don’t become the villain—keep fighting.