For sports fans, retirement is a sensitive subject. Early retirement is particularly touchy though. As fans, we long to see our favorite players exercise their talent for as long as possible. Early retirement usually occurs as a result of something rather serious, like an injury or a crime–it rarely happens by way of a willful decision. The latter is far more disorienting for sports fans. I still remember when the great Detroit Lions running back, Barry Sanders retired. Even though running backs tend to have shorter careers than most other positions in the NFL, Sanders’ decision to call it quits was nonetheless confusing and sad for his fans. The same can be said for Michael Jordan‘s (first) retirement in 1993. Jordan had just won his third championship with the Bulls, and had a ton left in the tank, to say the least. The difference between Sanders and Jordan is that Sanders was content with retirement.

2013 Wimbledon champion, Marion Bartoli, made her own announcement of early retirement last week. In’s recent piece, Sandra Harwitt offers her thoughts on the seemingly premature decision, wherein she highlights Bartoli’s honesty/humility and her contentment with retirement at the ripe age of 28.

bartoliWhen Bartoli arrived in the interview room she was crying, and a box of tissues was placed close to her on the table. She cried throughout the news conference, but also managed a few smiles as she explained why she made her monumental decision after the match.

“My body just can’t do it anymore,” Bartoli said. “I’ve been through a lot of injuries since the beginning of the year. I’ve been on the tour for so long, and I really did push through and leave it all during that Wimbledon.

“I really feel I gave all the energy I have left inside my body,” Bartoli added. “I made my dream a reality and it will stay forever with me, but now my body just can’t cope with everything. I have pain everywhere after 45 minutes or an hour of play. I’ve been doing this for so long. Body-wise, I just can’t do it anymore.”

Though it might seem like a stereotypical retirement speech, Bartoli’s words were hard to speak, for her words were accompanied by a myriad of tears. There wasn’t a sense of composure seeking to be upheld, but merely a woman being vulnerable about a life-altering decision. Bartoli then goes on to admit that if she played any longer, it would be in a disingenuous manner:

When it was suggested that she might be walking away too soon considering she is still a top-10 player, Bartoli said it would be like “cheating” if she continued to play with halfhearted interest. “If I had to be tomorrow on the practice court and prepare for the next tournament, I won’t be at 100 percent because my mind is not there, my heart is not there, and I just can’t lie like that,” Bartoli said. “I’m just too honest and too true to my values to just kind of being there, but not really at 100 percent.”

superman quitting

The Wimbledon champ’s self-awareness is refreshing. It is also something profoundly rare: an introspective inventory of one’s motives and intentions, accompanied by an admission that they are not flawless. It’s rare because it’s hard. The article ends with Harwitt drawing us closely into Bartoli’s contentment with her decision, which stems from knowing there’s simply more to life than tennis:

Beyond the thrill of going down in history as a Wimbledon champion, Bartoli insists that who she is holds more importance than what she has achieved on court: “I think if people ask, ‘How is Marion Bartoli?’, they will always respond, ‘She’s a nice person.’ That’s what I’m most proud of.”

As to what comes next for Bartoli, she had no answers. Making the impromptu decision to retire only a couple of hours before hadn’t allowed for time to map out life after tennis. But she didn’t appear worried about finding plenty of options for the future.

“Oh, gosh, I don’t know,” Bartoli said, fashioning one her few smiles of the evening. “There is so many things to do in life rather than playing tennis, so I’m sure I will find something. I just need a bit of time to kind of settle down.

“There is some excitement as a woman. There is a lot of excitement as a wife. There is a lot of excitement as a mother. There is a lot of excitement to come up. Obviously, I’m excited to live my future, but I will have some time to think about it for the months, years to come.”

What about early retirement is adverse to our way of thinking? A lot of things, to be sure, but it is the content ones that are most disruptive: “Not only are you calling it quits, you’re OK with it?!!” It’s precisely Bartoli’s honesty about her own inability and  lack of desire to progress in her career–and contentment with life outside of tennis–that is puzzling. It’s not a glory story. We want a Cal Ripken Jr. story (nicknamed “Iron Man” for rarely missing any  games), who played 21 years in the MLB.

Honesty and humility aren’t just a rarity in the sports world. Being honest about ourselves and our capacities is utterly contrary to our makeup. Self-justification is more more up our alley, pun intended. Thankfully, grace lies at the heart of the Christian faith and thus, freedom. With such freedom, there can be honesty and tears and even lightheartedness about not just the state of our body, but also our motives and intentions, even the really embarrassing or repulsive ones. After all, 33 isn’t exactly over the hill.