This week Andy Murray, an icon of British sport, announced during an emotional press conference that he is being forced into retirement due to injury. This became a leading news story and many, even his detractors, began to pay heartfelt tributes. Why is this? With no disrespect to Murray intended, what makes this headline news?
Bringing a divided society together
Sport can play a powerful role in momentarily uniting a divided society. Recall the 2012 Olympics? Or the 2017 World Cup? We connect through a shared joy, the achievements of our nations sporting heroes, or- in the case of Andy Murray- a shared sense of loss at what might have been.
Be real or ideal?
When it comes to individual celebrities, such as sporting heroes, we can project all sorts of feelings upon them- our own dreams, fantasies and fears. We shape them in ways we want to see them and their successes and failures impact us. Announcements such as Murray’s can come as a blow; we are reminded these demi-gods are real people after all- fallible and vulnerable just like we are.
Perhaps we actually crave this realness as an antidote to our 21st century culture; the constant striving for unrealistic perfection, fuelled by our 24/7 switched on society. But it comes at a cost as eventually we must face up to our own limitations and accept them.
Identity and acceptance
Who is Andy Murray, if not a tennis player? Losing a central part of one’s identity creates a void that may not be quickly or easily filled. A sense of grief is to be expected as with any loss. Feelings of denial, anger, ‘if onlys’ and ‘what ifs’, depression…
There are as many paths of grief as there are individuals. But grief must be allowed to run its natural course until some sort of acceptance has been reached. Hopefully, other aspects of one’s self and life can bring meaning and purpose to fill some of the void. When the person can confront what has been lost with equanimity, then perhaps a different relationship to what has been lost can be formed.
The path to acceptance takes time. Like the path to achievement, it can be a long and uncertain road. And Andy Murray will continue to tread that path even once the media attention and the tributes have faded away.