Retiring toughest time in athlete's life - Bidwell

10:54 am on 18 April 2019

Opinion - Amid all the admiring things said about Greg Inglis remains a fear.

Rabbitohs star Greg Inglis

Greg Inglis has retired from rugby league following a glittering career that, in recent years, was marred by injuries. Photo: Photosport

At 32, and with his body and mind no longer up to the rigours professional rugby league, the Storm, Rabbitohs, Queensland and Australia star announced his retirement on Monday.

Few players have a highlight reel to match his. Big, strong and searingly quick, Inglis was a genuine excitement machine. People bought tickets just to watch him play and invariably left the ground satisfied they'd seen a glimpse of a true rugby league great.

Away from the surging runs and trademark try celebrations, Inglis has fought internal battles. There have been periods of depression, a relationship breakdown, as well as a drunk driving conviction that cost him the Kangaroos' captaincy.

Through it all friends, colleagues and coaches have all looked out for Inglis and made sure he was well. Sometimes it's worked, at other times not.

At the start of this season he sat down for a high-profile television interview. The goal had been to demonstrate Inglis was fit and happy; instead he was often incoherent and unconvincing.

Now comes news that he will walk away from the structure and support of a playing career, causing those who care about him to wonder how he'll fill his time and maintain a semblance of self-worth.

Everyone's saying the right things and ambassadorial roles have been created to keep Inglis occupied, but people clearly aren't sure how he'll adjust to this next phase of his life.

All Blacks and Crusaders star Israel Dagg has only just retired himself and, in a positive development, spoken of his own doubts and fears; the feelings of inadequacy and failure which come when your body isn't up to playing anymore.

These are men whose athleticism, whose feeling of being bulletproof, has seen them overcome nearly every challenge life has put in front of them, now having to accept their mortality.

Israel Dagg of the Crusaders

Israel Dagg announced his retirement from professional rugby earlier this month. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

It's a strange sensation for athletes, who it's said face two funerals in life. The one, which they're around for and accompanies the end of their sporting careers, and then the real one.

There's no doubt it's a hard thing to accept but one Dagg, if not Inglis, has shown he might manage.

Dagg has not suffered in silence. Via the All Blacks' media channels, he's spoken of his issues and gained strength from it. He's started a conversation that many people in New Zealand, particularly young men, need to have.

So much of what athletes do is irrelevant. Various things matter in life, but sport isn't one of them, and we're all guilty of heaping absurd levels of praise upon people for merely doing their very highly-paid jobs. Some of what they do might be entertaining and even exhilarating, but it's never important.

Where people such as Dagg can do things of value is in initiating discussions about well-being and encouraging guys, perhaps unaccustomed to talking about their feelings, to open up.

Even Dagg's former All Blacks team-mate Beauden Barrett, a player you'd rarely accuse of over-sharing, has talked lately of rugby players needing to be "vulnerable.''

First as a learning mechanism within their own teams, but also to encourage the wider public to connect with each other.

We're pretty shy in this country but, as Barrett noted, if players in the macho world of rugby can be vulnerable and speak without embarrassment about their feelings, then so can everyone else.

Israel Dagg, to his great credit has done already, and you hope Greg Inglis can be just as candid one day too. For his own sake, as much as anything else.

*Hamish Bidwell is a contributor to Radio New Zealand. He has previously worked at The Northern Advocate, Gisborne Herald, Hawke's Bay Today, The Press, The Dominion Post and Stuff.

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