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  • Kamran Mashayekh

BELONGING AND MATTERING IN THE WORLD OF PROFESSIONAL SPORTS….

Becoming an iconic star in the multi-billion-dollar industry of professional sports, is the dream of most children who play sports as a young aspiring athlete. Spurred by images of their sports heroes, the young male and female athletes long to become the next Pele, Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Wayne Gretzky, Carly Lloyd, and Serena Williams with fervent hopes of one day seeing their own glossy image on the front cover of the storied Sports Illustrated sports magazine or other sports publications. Separate and apart from mastering their craft to the zenith of their abilities and entertaining millions in displaying their athletic prowess, what do you all of the above greats including countless other famous team and individual sport athletes have in common? The commonality is found in their collective desire to maintain their primacy on the field and/or court and elongate their careers long after the records in their respective sport have been shattered by the individual athlete. What is noteworthy of mention is that after reaching the unimaginable and soaring pinnacle of success, both financially and athletically, oftentimes, the star athlete rarely will agree to be relegated to “bench-warmer” status and absent injuries, will continue to entreat his or her coaches for PT, referred to “playing time” in the vernacular of professional sports. Common sense begs the question: “why risk injury if financial remuneration is no longer the driving force and financial security has been attained to a degree that it is a mere after-thought?” The answer is found in the fact that the star athlete wishes to remain relevant and in the public eye. Sitting on the bench while new talent is being groomed by the coaches, runs counter to this innate desire. To cure this insatiable quest to remain relevant, the star athlete will request a trade to a team that will guarantee a starting position. In return, the new team is almost guaranteed an immense uptick in attendance to see the star athlete. Pele, arguably the greatest soccer player of all time, long after reaching the peak of his athletic prowess and a thrice World Cup winner, chose to lend his diminished soccer talents to the newly found United States Soccer Club Soccer league of the New York Cosmos. He joined other erstwhile semi-retired soccer greats who hailed from the European countries and managed to stay in the public eye for an additional decade after he had officially announced his retirement from playing for the Brazilian national soccer team, a perennial powerhouse in the world of soccer. The great Michael Jordan after conquering six National Basketball League championships and multiple NBA MVP awards with the Chicago Bulls, requested to be traded in the twilight of his career to a “mid-market” team of the Charlotte Hornets. His play at the Hornets was sub-optimal in comparison to the lofty standards he had set for himself while playing for the Chicago Bulls. Tom Brady, a former starting quarterback with the New England Patriots, is a six- time Superbowl winner on the National Football League. Well in advance of his Superbowl win in 2019, there was chatter by management at the New England Patriots that Brady’s trajectory of athletic prowess was on the decline and it was time to groom new talent and prepare for Brady’s eventual forced or voluntary exodus. To that end, the Patriots made it abundantly clear that they would not oppose a trade request by Tom Brady to another team even though he had spent his entire twenty- year career as a member of the New England Patriot. As of the date of this article, Tom Brady is no longer a New England Patriot and has become a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the 2020-2021 season. Wayne Gretzky is the indisputable king of ice-hockey. His moniker is: “The Great One.” Wayne Gretzky has shattered long-held records in the sport including but not limited to, goals scored and assists. Yet, in the twilight of his career, instead of retiring at the top of his game, he also requested a trade from the Saint Louis Blues to the New York Rangers. Finally, in 1999, after a prolific career and a twenty- year sterling career, he retired from his beloved sport of hockey. The average career span in the National Hockey League is five years, whereas the “The Great One” played for a twenty-years spanned over four teams. Jason Witten is a Superbowl winner with the most high-profile sports club in the world, the Dallas Cowboys. In 2018, Witten announced his retirement from the sport of football and he was regaled as one of the all-time Dallas Cowboy greats with a retirement ceremony that was broadcast nationally. In 2019, , Jason Witten came out of retirement to join the Cowboys for the 2019-2020 season. In 2020, he chose to be traded to the Las Vegas Raiders for a one -year deal, which begs the question: “ With all of the fame, financial security and accolades to his name, why would he and subject his body to potentially severe injury?” Kim Clijsters is a Belgian grand slam tennis winner. She was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame after her official retirement in 2007. In a surprising move, she unretired and has returned to the Women Professional Tennis tour at the age of 40. She has global name recognition and the respect of her former peers and all of the global tennis community. The all-time greats of the different sports rarely opt to retire at the top of their powers. The most obvious reason for staying in the game past one’s prime, is the need to “belong and matter” to something or an entity- city, state, country or sports club and/or sports community that represents something larger than oneself. After-all, professional sports is also a form of employment and these stars wish to remain with the company or organization. However, if their services are no longer “matter” to the organization that they played an integral part in lifting to stratospheric status of success, they will select to marry their services to another suitor of professional club that is more than willing to sign a globally recognized brand name. In sum, belonging and mattering is a concept that stretches into the realm of professional sports, both in a team setting and an individuals sports that have their own organizations that comprise of the individual men and women that belong to it.