Barry Sanders is one of the most beloved athletes in Detroit history. But with his greatness comes a complicated legacy

Barry Sanders
Photo credit © Julian H. Gonzalez-USA TODAY NETWORK

DETROIT (WWJ) – Barry Sanders is indisputably one of the greatest players in the history of the NFL. His time as a Detroit Lion was nothing short of electrifying.

He became something of a folk hero to Detroit sports fans. But his sudden retirement in 1999 left a bad taste in the mouths of many.

On Friday the Lions rolled out the red carpet for Sanders at the Fox Theater for the debut of “Bye Bye Barry,” the new documentary that tells the story of him walking away from the game — a very controversial matter at the time.

On a new Daily J podcast, Sanders tells WWJ’s Zach Clark on the day that he flew to London and faxed his retirement announcement to the team, he never could have pictured the scene he was a part of Friday night in Downtown Detroit.

“Absolutely not,” he said with a laugh. “If I were to go back to that day, no. It was definitely a different climate and things needed to be worked out and ironed out and conversations needed to be had. I think maybe just maturity and the passage of time tend to settle a lot of those things.”

But two decades later, Sanders and the Lions have repaired their relationship and he remains a beloved fixture of the franchise. While he doesn’t necessarily look at the documentary — or the statue unveiled outside of Ford Field earlier this year — as closure in terms of his decision, he said “I think it’s satisfying.”

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Featured Image Photo Credit: © Julian H. Gonzalez-USA TODAY NETWORK