Children of the Sport

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

There are many milestones in life. Some of these involve personal achievement, like graduating from university or getting your first job. Others simply mark the passage of time, like 18th birthdays. Still others, like Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, mainly celebrate teenage anxiety and awkward dancing. Regardless of their origin, milestones tend to inspire somber thought and intimate reflection. They force us to examine what our lives have been, and to ponder where our journey will eventually lead.

All of life’s milestones are impactful, but there is one moment in time that is more stirring than all the rest, one existential landmark that brings swells of emotion like no other: the point in time when you realize that professional athletes are younger than you.

For me, this troubling milestone came to light as I was watching a pre-season NBA basketball game. The Dallas Mavericks were playing, and the announcers were talking about their most recent draft pick, Luka Doncic. As they were rattling off his achievements — drafted 3rd overall, Euroleague Most Valuable Player —  I was preoccupied with his inability to grow decent facial hair. I thought to myself, “What’s that dust on his lip? He looks like me in grade seven when nobody told me I should start shaving (which, by the way, did not help my Bar Mitzvah dancing performance). How old is this guy anyway?” One of the announcers answered me by saying, “and he’s done all this by the young age of 19.”

All of life’s milestones are impactful, but there is one moment in time that is more stirring than all the rest, one existential landmark that brings swells of emotion like no other: the point in time when you realize that professional athletes are younger than you.

Of course, I know that most athletes in the big four American professional sports (Football, Basketball, Hockey, Baseball) begin their careers somewhere between the ages of seventeen and twenty-two. However, I never internalised the fact that I am in the high end of that age range, and that a considerable number of athletes are now my junior. As I sat there with a bag of chips in my hand and abandoned midterm materials at my desk, I wondered if I was making the best use of my time. Here’s a kid, younger than me, and he is already well on his way to mastering his chosen field — and earning an eight figure salary! What have I done?

In today’s celebrity-centric society, the experience of being confronted with the youthful success of one’s role models, and the inevitable feeling of inadequacy that follows, is quite common. Whether athletes, musicians, or social media stars, many in the public eye take their place in the limelight at a very young age. They are already living their dreams (and many of ours) during the time that we, the average, everyday people, are slaving away to earn our degrees. When we were younger, these celebrities were idols to be admired, but now they have swiftly transformed into peers, perhaps even competitors, whose achievements dwarf our own. We cannot help but feel that our lives are underwhelming in comparison.

At the time when us regular people are entering the prime of our lives, advancing in our careers, starting families, and generally looking forward to our medically-lengthened futures, our celebrity peers will already be washed-up has-beens.

The present may seem bleak for us regular folk, and we may indeed be doomed to live ordinary lives. But maybe that’s not the worst thing. Sure, athletes and celebrities our own age may be ahead of us now, but their superstardom will not last forever. NFL running backs are far past their prime by age thirty, and in the major sports an athlete is extremely lucky to continue playing past their 40th birthday. As for other entertainers, well, there’s a reason everyone in Hollywood claims to be five years younger than what’s written on their their birth certificate.

At the time when us regular people are entering the prime of our lives, advancing in our careers, starting families, and generally looking forward to our medically-lengthened futures, our celebrity peers will already be washed-up has-beens. In fact, maybe our lives will end up being better than celebrities’ when all is said and done. When I’m forty, with any luck, I’ll be working at a satisfying job, and I’ll come home every day to a loving and supportive family. And what will my more athletic and talented contemporaries be doing? Probably living out a real-life version of Entourage, personal chef and Malibu house parties included.

Ok, fine, maybe their lives will still be better than my own down the road, and maybe they will be sitting on piles of cash, Walter White style. But they will always know that their best years are behind them, and, in the end, I wouldn’t trade my life for theirs. The lights of the rich and famous may burn the brightest today, but we dim bulbs will outlast them all.

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