Illegal Man Downfield 8-19-11

Identity crisis

Retirement is a blessing for most, but for some professional athletes it can be one of the hardest transitions in their lives.
In every sport there are those athletes who just can’t seem to give up their glorified careers. From Shaquille O’Neal to Jerry Rice to Muhammad Ali, we see it all the time.
These types of athletes are attached, and we as fans cringe as we watch our favorite athletes tarnish their legacies and move up the ranks on the has-beens list. But who can blame them? It’s what they’ve been doing their whole lives and it is, sometimes, all they know.
It’s as if they don’t know how to live without being a part of the sport they have given their lives to. It’s not like these athletes are doing it for the paychecks either; I mean we are talking about athletes who were once franchise players.
So why can’t they let it go? I would say it is because these athletes find their identity in who they have become through their careers. They have become their own idol through the glory, fame and praise they receive.
You can almost understand, right? In America we worship athletes as if they were gods. We praise and follow them for their athletic abilities and fame. I can imagine how easy it would be for a professional athlete to buy into the lies the media and fans feed them.
With all the fame, free stuff and wealth it would be easy to slip out of reality and think you’re one of the greatest human beings to ever walk the earth. The praise and glorification would literally trick you into thinking you’re some sort of infinite god.
The professional athlete lifestyle provides comfort, fame, fortune, women and power. It would be extremely difficult not to put your identity into a career that has given you so much, but this wasn’t the case for the Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight Chris Lytle.
Unless you’re a faithful fight fan you probably don’t know much about him.
Lytle is a 36-year-old welterweight with four kids and a second job as a full-time firefighter.
Fight fans have loved Lytle for years for his aggressive and relentless fighting style, and were shocked this past Sunday after Lytle (who had won five out of his last six fights) announced he would be retiring due to putting his family first.
“I’ve been fighting since ‘98, fighting forever, a lot of it is just that I’m not doing my responsibilities like I need to at home,” he said in an interview with “I feel like I’m not being the type of dad I want to. I got four kids and lots of times I feel just an immense sense of guilt for not being there in times when I should.”
Lytle fought in the UFC for 10 years and amassed a 10-10 record. Most people would see these numbers and wonder why he was even in the UFC if he was never going to make a title run. One major reason is because Lytle was such an entertaining fighter, some would say maybe the most entertaining of his time.
Lytle was nicknamed “the king of fight night bonuses” by his peers and many UFC commentators because he holds the UFC record for the most fight night award bonuses.
The big reason for the title, however, was because of his huge fan base. Where most fighters fight for themselves Lytle always fought for his fans. Lytle was more concerned with putting on a good show for the fans than out-pointing his opponents.
His decision to retire upset and confused many fans because Lytle was looking better than ever. So why would he retire?
“I just feel like I have a lot of things in my head that I feel guilty about,” he said. “I have a great time fighting, and I love fighting – I want to do it all the time – but I think that sometimes it’s time for me to not think about what I want and start thinking about what’s best for other people.”
Lytle walked away happily at the top of his game, and went out in style. He submitted Dan Hardy in the third round of his final fight and smiled with his kids inside the Octagon at the end.
What can athletes like Muhammad Ali and Shaquille O’Neal learn from a mediocre professional athlete like Chris Lytle?
Two simple things: Don’t put your identity into something that will eventually come to an end and living for others always brings more happiness and satisfaction than living for yourself.
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