Monday, March 29, 2010

Interlude--Youth and the Young

"Youth is wasted on the young," said the great writer George Bernard Shaw, and I think yesterday's tennis partner and his sore lower body would agree. I dusted off the racket, bought for about $15 at Ross--is there anything they don't have there?--and proceeded to beat my friend 6-3, 6-3. His compliments were heartfelt, but there was an intensity and hardness of resolve that attached itself to his declaration that he would simply need "to make a few adjustments and get me next time." His forty-year-old body, though, may have something to say about that.

Do not get me wrong--forty is no advanced age. Forty is Favre, Jamie Moyer (at least 2003 Jamie Moyer), Dikembe Mutumbo (well, bad example) is an age that allows one physical freedoms that will not peter out fully for quite a while, hopefully.

But what would have happened had my friend had his incites, his mental acuity, when he was a seventeen-year-old speedster, equally adept at stealing bases, running deep routes on the football field, and leaking out early to his offensive side on missed jump shots?

What would have happened if I had possessed that killer instinct evident in so many one-point games at the local health club? What would have happened had I possessed the confidence (some might say stubborness) to shoot a three-pointer in rhythm, with my team down game point to 19 in a 21 point game?

The sixteen year old me was tireless, skinny, athletic, crafty for my age, and limited in my game by a shaky jump shot and an almost blind belief that my job was to be a garbageman, a banger, a rebounder who controlled the paint. Though it occurred to me that a 6'2" 145lb. center was a rarity, almost as unheard of as a 6'2" 145 dominant center, my previous coaching, my upbringing, and my fragile self-esteem dictated that I stay away from the perimeter and play my role.

What is about the macho need to impose one's will on an athletic match that makes one so stubborn? This high school version of me has spawned a coach who, impressed by the sheer force with which his high school coach derided zone defense as "for weakspirited teams," has very rarely called such a scheme into action for his high school teams, maybe at the expense of a win or two? Or three?

Perhaps youth and its lingering bravado is wasted on the kinda young, too...


  1. Jaime Flaco wrote: 'What is about the macho need to impose one's will on an athletic match that makes one so stubborn?'

    It's a matter of evolutionary biology. The power-over struggle is an integral part of the food/territory/mate-earning process. That new "Life" joint on the Discovery Channel had a segment in its first episode about a male hippo that (who?) fought off another male hippo so he could retain sole claim to the female hippos (yes, plural - that's gangster) in his mud-pond. In the face of a physical opponent, he had to stand his ground in order to "win" the right to pass along his hippo DNA, which is the basic biological drive behind any life process. Appeasement of the other male hippo, perhaps via some female-sharing agreement, would have reduced his chances to spread his seed to the greatest extent possible. "No," he growled in his most intimidating hippospeak, "this is my mud-pond and these are my [insert pejorative term for a female hippos] and you better back off or else."

    For humans, athletics are the controlled, short-term, single-setting, morality-neutral way to pursue this instinct.

  2. I like the morally-neutral reference. I often wonder about the ultra-religious athletic types (David Robinson comes to mind, but in basketball, not quite as violent as football) like Tim Tebow, and really how playing such a cutthroat activity fits in to a religious format.

  3. I don't think morality plays a part in the motivation and thus the choice to participate in most sports, even boxing or football. The idea of healthy competition among willing equals according to a defined set of rules seems like an act that has no moral value.

    Apart from the decision to play, actions within or around the sport can have a moral value. A thing being physically risky and/or underhanded within a sport doesn't necessarily make it morally wrong. I'm thinking of intentionally beaning a hitter or enforcing a "no layup" rule. Those to me are stylistic choices of a coach/player that he will choose, knowing the consequences, because that's the type of game he wants to play (and are generally based in some type of insecurity, I might add). There is a very fine line between that and the helmet-to-helmet hits and kidney punches to which I would impute moral value; where a rule has been put in place to prevent harm to the player, intentional violation of that rule is an immoral act. (I don't think the free base is awarded to the beaned player to prevent physical harm; I think it's awarded to prevent teams from plunking the other team's better hitters as a strategy.)

    But I would agree that the more pious players out there are less likely to get themselves and their teammates riled up for a win by screaming expletives about the other team, their mothers, and the various objects that would fit in their anal cavities.