Barry Sanders’s retirement at the top remains an NFL mystery

Barry Sanders’s retirement at the top remains an NFL mystery

New documentary attempts to get to the heart of the legendary running back’s decision to quit the game while still in his prime

Barry Sanders’s 1999 NFL retirement still smarts. Jim Brown and Michael Jordan at least pivoted toward new pursuits (acting and, in MJ’s case, baseball for a while) and with their legacies secure. Sanders was 31, ringless and a season or so shy of becoming the NFL’s all-time rushing leader when he spun away to London to escape the press, faxing a goodbye letter to his home town newspaper on the eve of the Detroit Lions’ training camp. “Until yesterday,” one supporter huffed at the time, “OJ was my least favorite runner, but he only stabbed two people in the back.”

It’s taken Detroit hitting rock bottom time and again and other star players walking away from the NFL in their primes – Calvin Johnson, not least – for fans to appreciate Sanders’s lionhearted call. It’s the motivation behind his early retirement that’s long been so mystifying. A new Amazon Prime documentary called Bye Bye Barry aims for more clarity, but comes up grasping in the end.

Bye Bye Barry is available to stream now on Amazon Prime.

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