When an Athlete Quits, Repercussions Linger

So no matter how many times Santonio Holmes has been arrested or how many times he has been disciplined by a coach, being accused of quitting on in their season-ending game on Sunday has raced to the top of his résumé of character faults. Quitting hurts one’s reputation in uniquely wounding ways — calling into question toughness, loyalty and athletic honor.

“Professional athletes always talk about the importance of winning championships and how it’s the biggest thing, but you sort of have to wonder if that’s really the case,” said , a sports psychologist in Columbus, Ohio, who works with a range of athletes. “You put a ring on one side and a $100 million contract on the other, and which is more important? We’d all like to believe the players would die for their team, but in reality, they’re not all like that.”

Occasionally, the quitter can overcome the stigma. Yankees catcher last May when he saw that Manager Joe Girardi had dropped him to ninth in the batting order, but by the end of the season, Posada was given a standing ovation by Yankees fans. Duran was eventually embraced again in his native Panama as his career continued. Pippen made the Hall of Fame without an “I quit on my team” asterisk, although having six N.B.A. titles certainly helped.

Holmes, for his part, does have a victory and a most valuable player trophy from it. But the Steelers also shipped the talented wide receiver out of Pittsburgh only one season after that Super Bowl triumph — and his arrest record grew to include domestic violence, assault and possession. The for a modest draft pick.

“He had off-the-field problems, but when he was with Pittsburgh, he was a part of a Super Bowl team and you never saw the finger-pointing, the me-first attitude,” said Heath Evans, a former N.F.L. fullback who is an analyst for the NFL Network. “But he gets to New York and gets made a captain and does all the things a captain should never do. It’s the finger-pointing and putting himself before the team that will drive you nuts.”

His redemption effort, then, may take more time than it has for most. But Holmes has plenty of varied company.

The quitter label is one that is still trying to shake, stemming from his uninterested performance in the second round of the N.B.A. playoffs between in 2010. In fact, when James bolted Cleveland to join the Miami Heat, the strongest insult the Cavaliers’ owner, Dan Gilbert, could lob at him was that he quit in several playoff series.

Ricky Williams drew the ire of the when he retired just days before training camp in 2004, leaving them in the lurch at running back. He returned to the league, but his reliability was openly questioned. Randy Moss finally ran out of teams willing to put up with him this season after Minnesota and New England decided he had quit on their clubs.

The British marathon runner Paula Radcliffe appalled her country by dropping out of the 2004 Olympic marathon after 23 miles. Despite all her titles and records, she did not redeem herself in the eyes of her country until she limped through the 2008 Olympic race despite an injury. Even obscure athletes can forge a reputation by giving up, the best example being for calling an umpire corrupt and walking off the court at Wimbledon in 1995.

The French national soccer team added to the annals of quitting when the entire team refused to train at the 2010 World Cup over a spat with the team’s manager, drawing international disdain and seething disgust from French fans. John Daly contributed a colorful chapter when he walked out midround at the Australian Open last November after hitting seven balls into the water on one hole.

In professional team sports, though, quitting comes with major reputational repercussions, and fans are often slow to forgive.

“Part of the problem with athletes at that level is, there isn’t a carrot and stick for those players,” Stankovich said. “For guys like Holmes, he’s going to find a home somewhere. The guy’s going to get paid. It would never happen for a fringe player, but guys at that level, teams are willing to take the chance on him. There are no repercussions.”

Reputations, however, do not heal so easily.

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