We’ve all had times in our lives, professional and otherwise, where we have just wanted to up and leave it all behind. Disappear. Get the hell out of Dodge. But we don’t. We have bills. Responsibilities. Obligations. And maybe some fear, that if we did actually indulge the fantasy of pulling a Half Baked on our own video store, we’d eventually have to come crawling back with our tails between our legs. Then there’s Paul Ranger.
Back the calendar up several years, Paul Ranger is a highly regarded young defenseman for the Tampa Bay Lightning. He’s big, agile, clever, and skillful. The whole package. He’s on his way to possible stardom in Tampa, on a team that looks to be a potential Stanley Cup contender for years to come. Then comes October of 2009. Eight games into the season, Ranger abruptly goes on personal leave… and hasn’t been back. There hasn’t been any kind of explanation into Ranger’s absence, which is now into its third year. Ranger isn’t, nor should he be required to give one to the public. One would have to assume he gave a reason to the Lightning, as his employer at the time, and if he did, they’ve done superbly in not letting any information leak. What’s odd is that there hasn’t even been much speculation.
The reasons a young man approaching his prime as a professional athlete would up and leave the game he dedicated his life to becoming good enough to play at the World’s elite level are relatively few. They’re all troubling though. Schizophrenia manifests in men who are in their early or mid 20s. Even if managed, that can be crippling. Clinical Depression, while not as age-restricted diagnostically, is another possibility. Anxiety disorders and substance abuse target young men also. Most physically degenerative disorders come later in life, though there have been cases of ALS (Lou Gherig’s Disease) in younger people. Even if it’s simply Burn Out, a lost desire to continue to play, that is usually attached to other, more serious issues. Glen Coffee walked away from a promising career in the NFL to join the Seminary, but he’s the only one I can think of who gave up a lucrative career for no other reason than a higher calling. Is it macabre to speculate about the well-being of someone like this? Maybe. But we look at car wrecks with a hypnotized curiosity, don’t we?
There’s precedent here. Some of it is encouraging, others not so much. Josh Hamilton overcame the relentless grasp of substance abuse to become one of baseball’s brightest stars. Zach Greinke battled anxiety and is a terrific starting pitcher. But for every success story, there’s multiple sadder endings. Dontrelle Willis had his promising career derailed by anxiety. Khalil Green appeared to be a budding all-star shortstop but was unable to overcome his internal demons. George Best, one of the greatest soccer players the world has ever known, was unable to conquer alcohol’s vice grip and was essentially finished at age 27. Michael Dokes was a heavyweight boxing champion but drugs ruined the better part of his career. The list could get pretty extensive.
There’s a facebook page dedicated to him, more specifically, his mysterious departure from the NHL. A couple of recent Paul Ranger “sightings” have fueled a little chatter, but nothing even approaching concrete. One sighting had him working out at a hockey facility and he looked “in shape.” Another had him visiting with Lighning GM Steve Yzerman. True or otherwise, these sightings mean little.
We as human beings struggle with things we can’t explain. Religion and the accompanying faith in the intangible has caused war and bloodshed beyond comprehension. The most corrupt and fallibe human beings are those we elect to office. Let’s not even get into Area 51.
On a more social level, we have the, “Whatever happened to that guy,” conversations with our buddies over a beer. Or three. I’m curious, whatever happened to Paul Ranger?