Perhaps nothing better illustrates the tenuous future of a professional athlete than the story of Clay Smith.
Just 25, Smith was forced to retire from the AFL and the Western Bulldogs by a chronic knee issue that will affect him for the rest of his life, to some extent, and when he hits his 60s there may well be a hitch in his getabout from his days on the oval.
He was unable to get on the ground in 2018 and the issue with his right knee that cause him to submit to three reconstructive surgery procedures have reduced him to play only eight games since he was instrumental in helping the Dogs surprise the league and raise the flag for the 2016 season.
His value during finals in 2016 was indisputable, as he averaged 18 disposals in four games and was almost singlehandedly the force behind the demise of the Greater Western Sydney giants in the preliminary final.
Smith’s statement published on the Bulldogs website was the sort no one enjoys, but has been a common element of competition in sporting codes for all of history.
“It was a very difficult decision for me to retire at my age, but the right one to make given my knee hasn’t been able to fully recover,” Smith said. “While life without footy will leave a big hole in my life, it has shaped me as a person and helped me grow and I’m thankful for that.”
At times, it is easy to get caught up in criticism over the big salaries handed over to relative youngsters, or to be dismissive of a player who turns his or her back on teammates and the clubs that gave them the opportunity to make their big hauls, but with an employment window that is seldom longer than 10 years and the certainty that one foot placed wrong during a practice session might spell the end, it is necessary that the supply of players that can perform at the top levels is finite, but the demand is nearly insatiable.