“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villian,” Harvey Dent said in this summer’s blockbuster The Dark Knight. Millions of Americans can agree that Dent usually spoke the truth. Right now, I can think of one person whose life exemplifies this observation: Brett Favre.
Simply replace the word “die” with retire, and you can sum up the current predicament of one of football’s most accomplished quarterbacks. Had Favre gone quietly into retirement, he would have been worshipped. The people of Green Bay were literally going to name a street after him. Now, its taboo to mention his name there.
For a while, I tried to give Favre the benefit of the doubt. His last season ended with his throwing an interception when the Packers had the chance at advancing in the playoffs. Maybe his desire to return from “retirement” was an honest effort to redeem the Packers from a disappointing end to the 2007 season. Then it became clear that Favre was willing to play for anyone, even if that meant packing up the family and moving cross-country and turning his back on a town that had supported him for a decade and a half. Like many athletes before him, Favre is the perfect example of someone who can’t give up the spotlight and ends up sticking around long enough to see his name begin to tarnish.
Perhaps you’re wondering why this article isn’t in the sports section. But this isn’t really about sports. It’s about society and our insatiable drive for fame. Rather than quit while we’re ahead, we’ll hang on until we’re resented. This striving to remain a hero even after one’s time has passed is extremely common in sports. How many times did Michael Jordan return from retirement, only to finish out his career as a (pathetic) 40 percent free throw shooter? Evander Holyfield anyone? Some athletes just don’t know when to quit. Then again, some regular folks don’t either.
To me, what’s most odious about Favre’s return to football is that he was willing to play for a different team. As a Chicago land native, I grew up hating Favre and his cheesehead pals to the north. He was the biggest name in Wisconsin, an idol to his fans, and a longtime fixture in Green Bay, so it’s been weird for me to see Favre’s name plastered on the back of Jets jerseys proudly worn by little boys around NY State. So many times in the past his superb performance won the game, making him a hero. The glory is like an addiction. Farve gave up everything he had going for him in Green Bay and embarked on a quest for more fame.
Why aren’t we satisfied with our “15 minutes?” Is fame a sufficient motivator to risk being labeled a traitor? It has been said that absolute power corrupts absolutely. What does absolute celebrity do to us? Favre was one of the lucky pros who got to spend almost his entire career with one team, but he traded that away. In the same way, professors switch to more prestigious universities, Katie Couric switched news stations for a higher rated show, and students bypass opportunities that don’t appear likely to improve their resumes, many times with disappointing results.
Pursuing fame is not a deplorable goal. The Pussycat Dolls want fame. I want it, and you probably do too. Perhaps, though, fame is not meant to last forever. For those of us who manage to achieve great fame someday, it may be useful to remember that if we cling too long to our heroic status, it might end up backfiring on us and our reputations, as it might have for Mr. Favre.