I don’t know Ickey Woods, the former Cincinnati Bengals running back, but somehow we’re Facebook friends.
Earlier tonight, while combing through my feed, I came across the above photo—Woods signing some autographs at a mall in Ohio. And, being 100-percent honest, I felt bad for him. There’s something about the retired athlete, stripped of his abilities and stature and physique, that can be heartbreaking. To have been something special, and to then spend the remaining decades trying to keep that specialness alive, well, it’s often not pretty. And we, the people, feed off of that. I’m not sure why, but perhaps it’s a Revenge of the Nerds sort of thing. Most of us never played in the NFL or NBA, so we take a sadistic pleasure in watching folks who once did slip to our level. Ickey Woods isn’t wearing a helmet any longer, or running over would-be tacklers, or shuffling into the end zone. Nope. He’s just an old-ish dude with a pot belly, and watching him sit behind a folding table inside a mall ain’t pretty.
And yet … fuck me. And fuck you, too. Truth be told, Ickey Woods is raising money for this foundation, which is named after his late son, who died at age 16 from a severe asthma attack. He’s using his celebrity to do something righteous and decent and courageous. He’s turning heartbreak into hope, which is awfully powerful.
Furthermore, who am I—or you—to rip retired athletes for using past success for present stability? These guys had their bodies destroyed, their minds battered. They played for our cheers, for our enjoyment. So if someone wants to sign autographs at the local CVS, or use their name to sell meat products, hey, more power to them.
More power to Ickey.