For Tommy Morrison & others, a fading limelight leads to madness

September 3, 2013

Being a sports fan means never aging. It means that year after year, youth is recycled and everyone is again a 21-year-old looking to make his or her mark. The dream of sports is one of beauty and youth and endless possibilities.

The nightmare is so often what happens when those beautiful young athletes become a little older, a little slower and a little less beautiful. For even the most successful athlete, 40-years-old is about the limit. Then life begins. And life can often be unpleasant for these formerly beautiful young men.

Boxer Tommy Morrison is the latest tragedy to come from the sports world. Morrison died yesterday at the age of 44, most likely of AIDS-related illness, despite long denying he was HIV-positive or that the HIV virus even existed. From all reports, his final years were spent in hospitals and in a fugue of conspiracy theories.

I remember when Morrison arrived on the boxing scene. A more perfect example of Midwest American good lucks and personality will never be found. If you knew boxing, you knew Tommy was limited. But you also knew he could punch and that he came to fight. Morrison actually accomplished more than he should have, as he smartly out-boxed a slower George Foreman for some type of version of a heavyweight title. Morrison made some money in the ring and entertained fans, but a weak chin meant he’d never rise to greater heights, however, and a then a diagnosis of HIV changed everything.

And like so many before him, Morrison’s life outside of athletics was one of madness.

The stories of athletes - especially fighters and football players - falling apart after sporting retirement are everywhere. As but one example, for Mike Webster, life after football meant a brain-injured stumble through a life that would end early. Whether it is from brain injury, financial distress or personal demons, however, the life of a former athlete is often one of struggle, physically and emotionally.

Mind you, some athletes find success off the playing field. But for every Magic Johnson - who thrives off the court despite his famed battle with HIV - there are 25 Websters and Morrisons.

But regardless of the plight of the once-worshipped, for sports fans, every year is one of renewal. Did you see Jameis Winston yesterday? So young, so gifted. The world is his.

And so the new replaces the old in sports, as it must. For sports fans, it’s an eternity of watching young men excel. For the young athletes, however, it is but a blip of time that will eventually lead them to an uncertain future.


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