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Klee: Respect has turned into worship for retiring athletes

By: Paul Klee
July 18, 2014 Updated: July 18, 2014 at 9:21 pm
Caption +
American League shortstop Derek Jeter, of the New York Yankees, waves as he is taken out of the game in the top of the fourth inning of the MLB All-Star baseball game on July 15 in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

DENVER - Von Miller plays Connect Four.

Charlie Blackmon? He has a thing for Top Gun T-shirts. Julius Thomas keeps a Bible in his locker. Troy Tulowitzki studies his fantasy football lineup like it's a bar exam. Danilo Gallinari hosts low-stakes poker games. Gabriel Landeskog celebrated his 21st with sushi.

George Karl has a strict vitamin regimen, Walt Weiss a black belt in taekwondo, John Fox an affinity for saltwater fishing. Peyton Manning caps games with a Bud Light.

Heroic stuff, huh?

They are men with athletic gifts and coaching acumen. They skate fast, jump high, throw hard. On better days, they sign for kids, serve turkeys at shelters, chat with troops. On worse days, they misplace car keys, forget anniversaries, get arrested.

As far as we know, an athlete hasn't found a cure for cancer, survived a lifetime without testing the Ten Commandments, even invented a real-life hover board.

Yet when an athlete decides it's time to retire, too often they are treated with a hero's exit. The farewells turn athletes into something they are definitely not, and don't claim to be: a deity in cleats.

The Derek Jeter stuff was too much. Just too much. When the shortstop left the All-Star game to another five-minute standing ovation, after another sappy tribute, it was fair to expect he would walk on water to the dugout.

Alas, if only his ex-girlfriends were waiting at the top step with congratulations. Now that I would watch. The rest of the four-hour hullabaloo? Just too much.

The All-Star game, and Jeter, is simply an example. It's not his fault; this is on us, not the athletes. He didn't ask for the parade of praise, and I enjoy watching him play. If No. 2 was up to bat, I would turn up the volume.

These days, I turn the volume down. Every play is brilliant, Jeter-esque. In a sports society that relishes hyperbole, media must be running low on superlatives. That type of adulation should be reserved for true heroes, however you choose to define them. But they rarely wear a sports jersey.

These are only men, more fallible than famous.

Locally, the Todd Helton farewell game soared over the top. It was a lovely night at Coors Field, and Helton made it clear afterward he appreciated the love. But even he gave the impression it was too much.

To his credit, Helton did retirement right; instead of a five-month ovation tour, Helton opted for two weeks. The brevity of his farewell was quite Helton, and perhaps the absence of ego deserves an ovation of its own.

I'm all for appreciating the greatest athletes, whatever sport, whatever their accomplishments. But even the biggest fans must admit there's a line between respect and worship. Can't we separate the two?

Manning is special because I watched him hold up a team bus to spend an extra 10 minutes with a huddle of Marines, Karl because he fills cancer patients with hope, Gallo because he's never met a kid who didn't deserve a high-five.

With farewells, we really should consider toning it down. Maybe then, when athletes are arrested, divorced or bankrupted, the response isn't so severe and one of shock.

They play fantasy football, take their vitamins, drink Bud Light. They are only men, more fallible than famous.

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