The Curious Case of The Rejuvenated Athlete

Michael Owen was once the next great soccer player. Indeed, he turned out to be a pretty great soccer player. But no one wants to talk about that:

In meta-sport…You decide on the story long before there is anything so unpredictable to worry about as the match. You pick out what’s “interesting”. You decide on the personal narratives that matter. This is the situation that Michael Owen finds himself in. After years “in the wilderness”—which means being consistently pretty damned good, but not quite as brilliant as we’d hoped—Owen is now a story again. He is interesting again. Hell, he’s on a journey.

This seems unequivocally true for all stories about athletes (See: Favre, Brett). A similar thing could happen with Freddy Adu. He was pronounced to be the next Pele, even better than Owen. He is now only 20 (probably), and has much playing to do. Yet, already, The Big Lead asks:

What happened?

One wonders why only the most gossip-curious wonder, “What happened to Haley Joel Osment?”, Yet we will certainly seem surprised, pleasantly, when he returns for whatever career he finds in his mid-30s. Actors and artists are not viewed as having potential – in their early forms, they are what they are, geniuses at their specific craft, for that specific task. Athletes are works-in-progress: gifted, but not yet skilled; imbedded with potential, but also primed for a fall. This makes them choice material for a dramatic arc.

So, adapting Ed Smith’s exhortation to Michael Owen, and to the chargin of journalists everywhere, “rejuvenated” athletes should probably just answer questions like this (that is to say, honestly):

“That’s a strange question. Sport is unpredictable. I was on the wrong end of a close call at _________—it could have gone either way. Now _______ have taken a punt on me. That’s life. I may have lost a bit of pace but I’m basically the same player. Circumstances changed, but I didn’t. Let’s see what happens next, shall we?”

2 responses to “The Curious Case of The Rejuvenated Athlete

  1. This reminds me of a conversation I had only yesterday with my buddy. He’s a Rangers fan, and he said to me “Rangers just got a young BC guy, Brian Boyle.” After letting him know that he wasn’t young (even though he is!), I recounted Boyle’s disappointing career at Boston College. He just never lived up to expectations.

    But then I became conscious of the fact that when this giant player showed up as a freshman, we all expected him to stomp everyone, leaving a trail of broken opponents in the wake of his clear path to the goal. When that didn’t happen, we were disappointed. But he ended his three-year career at BC with one less goal than the vaunted Patrick Eaves, whose only disappointing act was leaving for the pros a year early. Sad, that great players get locked into transcendent narratives.

    I’m also trying to test out my new globally recognized avatar. Hopefully it gets recognized here.

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