The relationship between sports and aging is tenuous at best. The youthful phenoms are adored, the legends are revered—despite the constant need to discover and herald their replacements—and the over-the-hill are often not so quietly urged to make a graceful exit.
But aging within the sport has largely gone unexamined, its effects unknown until it is too late—such as the case with NFL stars now battling the effects of repeated head injuries before the preventive measures and precautions of today’s game were put in place.
ESPN the Magazine broached the subject in a different way in its first-ever Age Issue, which hit newsstands on Friday. In the Oct. 1 issue, the magazine follows four Major Leaguers at different stages of their careers, starting with the phenom at 21 and the aging veteran at 33.
Of course, in a sports culture that celebrates youth, the phenom—Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout—was featured on the cover.
Beyond merely baseball, the issue touts general age analytics, including career expectancy projections and the peak age at every position in every sport.
Back to baseball, another article examines the “real age” of 38-year-old New York Mets pitcher Robert Allen Dickey’s pitching arm. The magazine surmises that his preferred knuckle ball reduces the wear and tear—and thus age—of his pitching arm, which it rates as that of a 32-year-old.
In recent weeks, some magazine covers have taken the more usual approach to sports aging. Relative league newcomers and hyped QBs Cam Newton and Tim Tebow were celebrated on GQ’s NFL Kick-Off issue.
Tebow’s appearance was the source of controversy since the New York Jets QB received “starter” attention, though he’s Mark Sanchez’s backup on the squad, and the photos used were recycled from his superstardom as the University of Florida’s all-everything quarterback.
His latest feature in Vogue’s October issue is sure to draw more criticism, as he poses shirtless (again) and deflects any want for attention, despite what some would say is the obvious appearance to the contrary.
Meanwhile, another’s approach may signal why a greater examination is needed between the two subjects. Sports Illustrated featured former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon, but from his girlfriend’s perspective as she’s become the caregiver for a heralded athlete affected by the violence of the sport in which he excelled.
Such suffering by McMahon and others of his era have helped bring awareness to the severity of head injuries in the NFL—and other sports—and have led to measures to minimize injury in the game.