Karma is a Bitch, Tiki Barber

March 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

Oh, Tiki. I would like to say Karma is a bitch and be done with it, but unfortunately for you, I don’t think Karma is done, which is bad news for your potential comeback. Let’s examine your history with Karma.

Has a fan base ever hated an athlete who played his whole career (at least 7+ years) with a team so much?

Karma Bitch Slap Number 1: Announcing Retirement Mid-season

She first struck you down by awarding your lifelong team, the New York Giants, an unlikely Super Bowl victory, a huge upset no less, the year after you left. I’m sure you don’t need me to explain why She would do this to you, but just in case: It’s because in October 2006, you announced your intention to retire at the end of the season and pursue a broadcasting career. Now, a player always has the right to retire when and how he wants, but if you act like an asshole about it, then you better beware of Karma hunting you down*. And you, Tiki, acted like an asshole. Because of your ill-timed and self-serving announcement, you caused irreparable discord among your teammates and your coach. In fact, two of your former teammates, Michael Strahan and Antonio Pierce, now both media members — who, ironically, have had much more success than you — have implied that they were glad you weren’t around for that upset of the Pats in Super Bowl XLII. They’ve also slammed your leadership ability. Obviously, the Giants organization agrees because they released you while your coming-out-of-retirement papers were still warm from the fax machine at the league office. The most serious indictment of your character, however, is that your own fan base hates you.

*See: Favre, Brett

Karma Bitch Slap Number 2: Your Intolerable Condescension

Karma didn’t take kindly to all these major news outlets, such as SI and USA Today, doing little puff pieces about you reading the paper and being concerned about Iraq among other world issues. Not that being a thoughtful athlete is a bad thing; in fact I don’t think I’m alone in admiring cerebral athletes who use their rare platform to speak out about issues. Good examples of such athletes include Steve Nash and Hines Ward. But every time a story was printed about your “worldly knowledge” I got this creepy feeling that you were sitting in the locker room shaking your head in mock disgust as Justin Tuck and Osi Umeniyora played an intense game of Madden ’07 while you sidled up to Peter King and showed him your Bookmark Toolbar on your Internet browser. “See, here’s CNN, which I visit daily of course, Slate, New York Times, Harper’s, and so on. I doubt any of these guys in here have even heard of Harper’s! Hahahaha!”

The condescension of course was topped off by your gig on the Today Show, which confirmed the obvious: that you thought you were too good for football in the first place. Until now, I suppose.

Karma Bitch Slap Number 3: Leaving your Very Pregnant Wife for a College Girl

Up to this point, Karma had just delivered a couple of striking blows to your head to teach you a lesson. However, you leaving your wife, who was 8 months pregnant with your twins, for a 23-year-old intern you used to work with inspired Karma to kick the shit out of you. She started with a kick to your nuts (you becoming largely irrelevant in the broadcasting world), followed up with a bunch of body blows (you presumably falling behind on your child support payments) then followed up with a knockout punch (you having to attempt what is sure to be an embarrassing comeback after being out of the league for four whole seasons in order to make some cash to pay your ex-wife.)

Karma is a bitch, but She’s a discerning bitch. You’re not the first athlete to leave his wife; in fact you’re probably not even the thousandth. And, as horrible as it is, you’re probably not the first, or even 10th, athlete to leave his wife while she’s pregnant, even during her third trimester. Athletes’ relationships with women can mostly be described as fragile at best to begin with, and that’s before you add all the temptations** athletes face all the time.

**Which include: constant travel and all its inherent temptations; women who are naturally attracted to handsome, muscular men; athletes who are generally hard-wired to be alpha males, which means mating with as many women as possible; superfluous money to spend on alcohol, clubs and women; extra testosterone that needs to be expelled; and a constant need for validation, among many other things.

No, the real crime of your abandonment of your wife is that you’re a hypocrite, Tiki. Here’s what you said about your father, who was a philanderer just like you.

“I don’t give a shit that the relationship didn’t work,” (Barber) said of his parents’ split. “Not only did he abandon her, I felt like he abandoned us for a lot of our lives. I have a hard time forgiving that.”

Uh, that sounds a lot like you abandoning your wife and small children, Tiki. Karma will not forgive that easily, and that’s why She decided that you needed to humiliate yourself and attempt what is sure to be a failed comeback for the league you never really embraced in the first place.

This isn’t to say Tiki Barber wasn’t talented; on the contrary. Tiki was one of the best RBs of his generation by the numbers. He was one of the few RBs in NFL history who got better with age. His yardage totals, yards per carry and TDs over his career look like this:

  • Year 1 (’97): 511, 3.8, 3
  • Year 2 (’98): 166, 3.2, 0
  • Year 3 (’99): 258, 4.2, 0
  • Year 4 (’00): 1,006, 4.7, 8
  • Year 5 (’01): 865, 5.2, 4
  • Year 6 (’02): 1,387, 4.6, 11
  • Year 7 (’03): 1,216, 4.4, 2
  • Year 8 (’04): 1,518, 4.7, 13
  • Year 9 (’05): 1,860, 5.2, 9
  • Year 10 (’06): 1,662, 5.1, 5

As you can probably infer from the numbers, Tiki left money on the table — reportedly around $9.3 million over 2007 and 2008 — when he retired, which is an extreme rarity for a running back, especially a 10-year veteran.*** This is a man who was hanging on for dear NFL life at the end of year 3 and even year 5, then broke out and had the best five years of his career over his last five seasons, and if you want to go further, his last two seasons were his best two.

***Note: Tiki’s durability and consistency were incredible. However, he was never truly great because (a.) he was not a good goal-line back (hence, why the Giants drafted Ron Dayne in 2000) and (b.) he fumbled too much. In fact, he almost had as many fumbles (53) as rushing TDs (67). This is more of an indictment on his ball security, but the TDs are startlingly low too.

I seriously doubt that we’ll ever see another career arc like Tiki Barber’s. Running backs are a dime a dozen these days, so if an RB can’t even put up 1,000 combined yards in his first three seasons, he’s probably going to find a pink slip soon afterward. On top of his admirable career, Tiki did something that should have been just as admirable — he retired before The League forced him to retire, sorta like Barry Sanders, Jim Brown and to a lesser extent, Robert Smith. An early retirement would presumably save Tiki from an undignified NFL exit and more importantly allow him to be one of the lucky and rare NFL players who could stay healthy later in life. Unlike Sanders, Brown and Smith, though, Barber’s retirement was more creepy. Maybe it was because he openly angled for a media job for two years before filing his papers or because of his aforementioned condescension of his teammates. Then I found this quote from Barber today from an old Rick Reilly story.****

****Quote thanks to Deadspin. I don’t know what I would do without Deadspin in my life.

“When I get home from work,” says Barber, “my [two- and four-year-old] kids come running at me. They make me get on my knees, and we play tackle football. On replacement knees, that’s not happening. I saw this video of O.J. Simpson once, and his kids came running at him and he couldn’t even pick them up. So I can see that if I play three or four more years, like everybody wants me to, that could be me. But when I’m 50 years old, and I’m having trouble just getting down the stairs, will they be cheering for me then?”

No, Tiki, I don’t think your kids will be cheering for you in a few years, whether or not you have replacement knees, which is a distinct possibility if some team is crazy enough to give you a contract and let you play. Not only do you have age and an astonishing amount of time off working against you, but also Karma.

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