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Monday, March 28, 2011
Swoopes contracts unretire-itis

Attention, Tulsa, alert the CDC! Yet another professional athlete appears to have contracted a case of unretire-itis. There is no cure, and researchers are frantically scrambling to concoct one. The latest victim of this highly contagious disease is women's basketball legend Sheryl Swoopes, a three-time Olympic gold medal winner, three-time WNBA champion and three-time league MVP. Today Swoopes announced she is coming back to the WNBA and has signed a deal, at age 40, to play with the Tulsa Shock this season.

What is it about professional athletes who refuse to hang it up or insist on coming back? In the past few years alone, we've had Brett Favre and Lance Armstrong put us through the retire and unretire dance multiple times. Now it's Swoopes' turn. Why?

I don't know for sure, but I doubt it's about the money for Swoopes. The WNBA is not a lucrative endeavor for players, and she has been playing overseas in Greece for the past few seasons since being released from the Seattle Storm in 2008. It also seems unlikely that it's purely a desire for more titles, because the Shock are one of the worst teams in the WNBA, finishing 6-28 last season.

So what can it be? Ego? Competitive drive? A fear of moving on to the great unknown of post-retirement? Swoopes, who is gay, is in a committed relationship with her partner and has a teenage son from her first marriage. Doesn't she think there is more to life than basketball?

This hang on too long or retire/unretire mentality isn't unique to basketball or football players. There are plenty of other athletes who fall into this category as well. Yes, I'm looking at you, Evander Holyfield and Jamie Moyer. Swoopes might just be taking after Michael Jordan (she named her son Jordan after the NBA legend), who famously retired, unretired and retired again between 1993 and 2003. (I think most sports fans choose to ignore the last few years Jordan spent with the Washington Wizards.) Swoopes was last the WNBA's MVP in 2005. Six years is a long time in the sports world.

Swoopes' legacy as one of the greats of the women's game is secure. I'm sure she has her reasons for coming back now, but right now I'm struggling to figure them out.