By Deion Sanders
SPECIAL TO THE AMERICAN-STATESMAN, Austin, Texas
Saturday, November 11, 2006
I've been blessed to walk away from the National Football League on my
own terms twice.
Believe me, not all athletes are that fortunate.
I retired the first time after the 2000 season because I didn't want to
play for Marty Schottenheimer - not because I'd lost my passion for
the game or I couldn't play at the level I was accustomed to playing.
After all, I had seen Marty on ESPN talk about how he would never work
for an owner like Dan Snyder because he didn't like the way Dan did
business. Later that year, Marty accepted the coaching position from
the man he had blasted on national TV. That told me Marty's decision
was all about money, so I knew he wasn't going to be successful in
I joined the Baltimore Ravens in 2004, but I was there to do more than
play football. I was there to affect lives. I was there to mentor and
to be a liaison between players and management, coach and help people
spiritually, from the chefs who prepared our meals to the custodian who
cleaned the building. The last thing I was there to do was play
Once I had fulfilled my assignment - the one God gave me - it was
time to go. Of course, having toe surgery after each season made it
easier to accept God's plan for my life.
As I said, God allowed me to walk away twice when I got ready. My close
friend, Atlanta Falcons cornerback Kevin Mathis, wasn't so lucky.
Some of you might know him from Gainesville High School, about an hour
north of Dallas. Or you might know him from Texas A&M-Commerce. Or you
might know him from the years he played with the Cowboys, Saints and
now the Falcons.
His career ended last Sunday when he suffered a neck injury on the
opening kickoff against Detroit.
It's disappointing that he didn't get to leave the game on his own
terms. The game told him it was time to go.
When you can't leave on your own terms, it's an empty feeling that
can't be filled quickly. Imagine having a 10-year relationship end with
an e-mail or a text message the day after a lovely evening of dinner
There's no warning sign. There's nothing you could've done differently.
The relationship is just over and you never had a chance to tell her
That's why I hurt for Kevin. It's over for him.
Now, maybe you can understand why athletes sometimes act the way they
do when it comes to compensation. After all, the NFL average is no more
than four years, so we only have a few years to make enough money to
last a lifetime. We must always do what's best for our family even if
fans don't always understand.
But if you look closely, you'll see that athletes do the same things
teams do. When we perform poorly, the club will ask us to take a pay
cut. When the club doesn't think we can contribute to winning, it
releases us. But when Ricky Williams wanted to retire and live his
life, Miami sued him for a portion of his signing bonus, thus forcing
him to play.
Does that seem fair?
When we perform at a high level, we ask for a raise. Don't you do the
same? I don't think someone would stay at IBM making $50,000, if Dell
wanted to hire them for $75,000. Or what if McDonald's were paying you
$7 an hour and Burger King offered you $8.50?
That's a reality of sports and life - and it's one of the reasons
I've always had a good personal relationship with every owner I've ever
played for: I understood it was always business, never personal, and so
did they. That's probably why I played for nine different
organizations, four in baseball and five in football.
Unfortunately, many athletes never figure that out.
Sports is a business and you must always treat it that way. I tell all
of the guys I mentor: Never love something that doesn't have the
capacity to love you back - whether it's a mansion, a Ferrari or a
The game can't love you back.
It can pay your bills and give you stardom and fame, but it can never
love you back. It doesn't have a heart.
Sanders played pro football for the Dallas Cowboys, among other teams,
and played Major League Baseball. He writes an online blog at
Deion Sanders, the two-sport star turned Austin Wranglers part-owner,
debuts his blog on Statesman.com. In 'On the line with Prime,' Deion
offers a Q-and-A with Vince Young, gives his take on the Miami-Florida
Atlantic fight and pinpoints the No. 1 problem with sports today. Come
back for updates each week, at statesman.com/primetime.
David E. Garnett
iAM Solutions, LLC
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