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Since a life of constant vacationing had become too onerous, Irish fighter Conor McGregor decided to announce his retirement on Monday.

Like most important communications these days, the note was posted to social media in haste late at night, grammatically suspect, and may or may not have been spurred in part by a few adult beverages.

“Hey guys quick announcement, I’ve decided to retire from the sport formally known as ‘Mixed Martial Art’ today,” McGregor wrote.

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Conor McGregor announced that he is retiring from mixed martial arts in a post on Twitter.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

On Tuesday afternoon, the New York Times reported McGregor was being investigated in connection with a sexual assault in Ireland, adding a darker tone to proceedings.

This would be a new one: retirement as a PR smokescreen.

The one thing that is plainly not happening here is retirement in the sense that you or I understand it – the unequivocal end of a stage of working life.

Nobody believes McGregor has retired, because nobody really retires in sports. What they do is deploy the nuclear professional option as means to some other end.

If they get enough attention or if the dogs lose the scent, they unretire.

If no one cares, they slink off into the darkness of civilian life.

It’s vaguely pathetic, however it turns out.

There used to be some dignity to this. There were rules.

You held a news conference. You went on the record. Tears were shed. Once you said it, you couldn’t unsay it. Lou Gehrig would not stand quite so tall in the collective imagination if he’d come out a month later and said, “You know what? I feel a bit better. Where’s my glove?”

You retired in the off-season. Not in a huff during spring training. Not midway through the year because the other guys had stopped passing you the ball. Not six minutes after winning the championship. You did it during the holidays so as not to upstage your colleagues.

Once the word “retirement” had escaped your lips, that was it. No more playing. No final hurrahs. No farewell tours around the league. You just left.

There was a reward for this selflessness. If you went out with dignity, it rounded off your legend. In a few cases, it created it.

I defy you to name three fighters who Rocky Marciano beat. Seventy years later, why do you know his name? Because he quit when he was on top and he stayed quit.

If any individual is to blame for things running off the rails, it’s Michael Jordan. He retired about a hundred times. He retired from two different sports, although I’m not sure it can truly be said that Jordan “played” baseball. He did wear a baseball uniform. He did hold a bat. I’m just not clear on whether he ever hit anything with it, which is the difference between dressing up for Halloween and being a baseball player.

Jordan quit and unquit with such regularity that, by the end, no one bothered feting the greatest basketball player in history as he staggered off into the sunset.

There’s a reason no one talks about Jordan that much any more. He’s certainly less romanticized than peers such as Magic Johnson or Larry Bird. It’s because everyone grew tired of Jordan’s fecklessness in the late nineties, and it still took another five years for him to buzz off.

But Jordan both created a template so broad – do what you like; quit in a fit of pique; indulge your hobbies; come back when you’re bored; leave again if you don’t win; in the end, don’t even bother trying – that everything that came afterward seemed reasonable by comparison.

On the weekend, New England Patriots tight end and topless model Rob Gronkowski retired. Gronkowski had been about to retire for just about as long as he played professional football.

He existed in three states – catastrophically injured; winning Super Bowls; about to retire. For the past few years, all three at once.

But credit to him. For a man who seemed as thick as sheetrock, Gronkowski resisted the urge to actually retire, to say the words, until the end. He got it right. For a minute.

He did it in the off-season. There was no mention of one last turn around the league. There was finality – “I am retiring from the game of football today.”

There is no wiggle room in that statement.

Within hours – minutes, really – Gronkowski’s agent was walking it back.

“Let’s just say, hypothetically, Tom Brady gave him a call and said, ‘Rob, I need you,’ ” Drew Rosenhaus told ESPN. “I wouldn’t be shocked if he came back to play a few games.”

Yes. “Hypothetically.” Sure.

Increasingly, sports is moving in the direction of the gig economy. That’s what “load management” is – part-time, seasonal work.

“Retiring” has become an extension of that urge and a bargaining tool: “I don’t want to do this all the time. It’s hard on a body. But a few games? Just one more year? For a championship? Or a big whack of dough? Sure, I’d think about that.”

That’s good for a certain calibre of player. He gets his cake and eats it, too.

It is decidedly not good for the game(s).

If the guys making millions of dollars don’t treat this thing with seriousness, why should the people who pay their salary? Given McGregor’s developing situation, people will now begin to ask, ‘What are they hiding?’

When a player retires then changes their mind, the net result is that he or she makes themselves look foolish. When the fans weary of this act and begin to retire themselves from caring, that effect will be a lot harder to take back.

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