Is it better to quit while you are at the top of your game, or to fade away slowly?

By NPR’s Frank Deford

Ah, once again: the perennial question about the great champion as he grows into athletic dotage: Should he quit when he is still near the top of his game? Or should he keep playing the sport he loves, unashamed at more everyday defeats to everyday players?

Roger Federer suffered at Wimbledon last week. Does it dim a champion’s legacy that we saw him diminished at the end, even if he was extraordinary at his zenith? Or, do we eventually forget his defeats to the acolytes of Father Time and only remember the glory days?

The decline of the stars in individual sports is more obvious, of course. Was anything sadder than Muhammed Ali looking like another old tomato can? When there are teammates around, the star is not quite so scrutinized. It’s interesting that the magnificent baseball player, Albert Pujols, has declined precipitously –– and at pretty much the age Federer is –– but more attention is paid to how the Angels overpaid Pujols than how he’s performing –– let alone should he hang up his spikes.

Still, old heroes on teams are allowed more to troop the colors their last, lingering seasons.

But watching athletes who were out there alone and who were so special –– like Federer, like the boxer Manny Pacquiao –– watching them decline. Nevermind what they want –– why, it almost feels as if they have no right to let us see them being mere mortals.

  • Sallie

    “Quitting” or not competing any more while on top of your “game” would be wise. However, if you have a competitive spirit, you don’t know when to quit.

  • Eric from MPLS

    Let him play all he wants. He has built his life on playing tennis at the highest level possible and if that level decreases he is still being the best he can be. Who are we to take that away?

  • Pearly


  • Randolph

    As a 50-something who still plays basketball two or three times a week with a bunch of very forgiving college-age “kids,” I say play on! The trick is to come to peace with your declining physical ability and still find a way to enjoy the competition (and not be too much of a liability to your teammates). Pros like Roger Federer or Serene Williams don’t have to worry about dragging down a team, but if they still enjoy their work, more power to them.

  • PaulJ

    Does everything in this world have to go through even the dreary phases of the product cycle? The make believe world of sports entertainment; is a good place to live fast, die young, and leave a beautiful corpse (metaphorically speaking).

  • Gary F

    I guess nothing is going on in the nation or world of much importance..

    Texas abortion politics, US Drone kills 16 in Pakistan, James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, admits to lying to congress, ObamaCare being put off another year, the Obama Regime supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi in Egypt, so really, nothing of importance

    • Pearly

      Off to political reeducation for you.

      • Gary F

        I’m committing thought crimes!

        Also, check out the Human Rights Watch website. 91 woman have been sexually assaulted in Egypt’s Tahrir Square since Sunday.

        Lets talk about aging jocks.

    • Ralfy

      There are always issues more critical than leisure and entertainment, and of course they need to be addressed. Does that mean we disdain sport, art, music, poetry, etc.? Of course not. We all need a break now and then from the 24/7 bombardment of crisis. Those that only see the world and their life in the most dire of circumstances miss out on the joy of living and cut their lives short. Gary F, for your own sake, please lighten up.

      • Pearly

        I would not want to talk about it either (MPR) if I was carrying water for the Obama administration on a daily basis.

    • JQP

      World not following your plan?

  • Ralfy

    As one pushing 60 whose athletic abilities have been on the wane for some time, I’d ask: Do you still enjoy the sport? Are you participating at the appropriate ability level? If Yes, then by all means continue to participate. Perhaps not at the elite level of the peak period, but sporting is not an all or nothing proposition. As for professionals, the law of natural selection seems to cull the herd.

  • JQP

    “Ain’t no I in team.”

    Take the money. It’s what our entire culture is about. Blithering 70 year old CEO’s & executive who can’t get out of the way of younger talent – affects the chain of success right down to the bottom of the corporate structure. Same thing happens in public sector… 70-80 year old members of congress or legislatures … should not be allowed. We have young people that both need jobs and need to start clearing out the pile of rubbish that the boomers are leaving behind.

    If you’ve got enough to live on … in casual comfort … and have reached a nominal age of retirement from your job – and are only performing at a middling rate … then … leave.

  • Jim G

    Time can be a thief… of youth, beauty, athletic talent, friends and eventually life itself. But time can also bestow gifts… of wisdom, experience, children, grandchildren, and an appreciation of others’ talents. The prideful lust of our youth should grow over time into the mature reasoned acceptance of our fading beauty and the respectful acknowledgement of others as they surpass our achievements. As for myself, I’m settling on quietly fading away.

  • Russ

    As Chuck Yeager said: “You do what you can for as long as you can, and when you finally can’t you do the next best thing. You back up, but you don’t give up.” ― Chuck Yeager