Focus on athletic ability, not athletes’ ‘old’ age

By Allyson Kloster

After 22 years of professional baseball, Greg Maddux officially announced his retirement Monday. It’s funny that a man who was the baby of the National League in 1986 and 1987 retired as an old-timer by professional baseball standards. This makes me wonder, at what age are professional athletes considered old in their respective sports?

If athletes like Dara Torres, Brett Favre and Lance Armstrong are any indication, that question doesn’t seem to have an answer. As with any sport, how long you play is determined by performance, not the wrinkles on your face.

If that’s the case, isn’t it odd that there is so much press surrounding their ages? If the old-timers are truly equal to all other athletes, why are they so fascinating? Why was Maddux’s age the first thing that came to my mind when I tried to think of something unique about his career?

Perhaps we’re so interested in them because of how they seem to defy statistics.

According to a 2007 study by a University of Colorado at Boulder research team, the average major league career spans 5.6 years. Maddux, 42, played almost four times as long. Sheesh.

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Another study put out by CU-Boulder found that a baseball player’s career peaks between age 27 and 30. Maddux fits the bill, since he was 26 when he won his first Cy Young Award in 1992. Yet he fit the bill 17 seasons straight, becoming the only player in history to win 15 games in that many consecutive seasons.

The same applies to Torres. At 41, she became the first woman over 40 to compete in an Olympic swimming event. Much of the reason she attracted national attention was because she competed in a sport dominated by women half her age.

With Maddux’s situation, although it’s rare for baseball players to last as long as he did, this is not the first time it has happened. Over the years, there have been many players in their 40s competing in the MLB. But with Torres’ situation, she’s a freak. Because of that, it’s easy to identify her by age, rather than her ability.

But unlike many other aging athletes who came out of retirement – i.e., Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen – Torres contributed to her sport. She’s still got it.

Sure, people initially paid attention to her because of her age, but after she got in the pool, it became irrelevant because she splashed her way into winning three silver medals.

The same goes for Brett Favre. If Green Bay management hadn’t allegedly tried to pressure him into retirement, his trade to the New York Jets wouldn’t have been as riveting. But since it involved issues surrounding his age, the story stole national headlines.

Similar to Torres, now that Favre, 39, has proved he’s still got it, the headlines he generates have less to do with the numbers on his birth certificate and more to do with the numbers he’s putting on the scoreboard.

Even Lance Armstrong, 37, wants to join in on the fun. His eyes are on winning his eighth Tour de France.

He told Vanity Fair, “Older athletes are performing very well. “

Thankfully, baseball players like Maddux are not the only athletes who are expanding the definition of athletic retirement.

Because “old” athletes aren’t letting stigmas of ageism prevent them from playing the game they know they’re still capable of playing, fans are able to focus on the athletes, not the thinning hair on their heads.

Allyson Kloster is a senior in Media. She can be reached at [email protected]