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Well, let me start off by stating that I’m really sorry for the complete lack of updates on Pollitics Today. I have recently moved back to college and internet has been spotty so I’ve practically been living in the dark since two weeks ago. Now that I’m slowly back into the swing of things, I thought I would make a quick return to blogging with a piece that wouldn’t normally fit Pollitics Today.
This isn’t my personal blog but its my most visited and viewed. Its obviously a political blog and by now you know what my ideology is. However, as I’ve stated before (in articles regarding Tim Tebow and NASCAR), I’m a sports fan. Sometimes I like to try to bridge the gap between my two interests. Usually, its fairly obvious where I’m heading with something.
So instead, how about I just do a quick story from the heart and hopefully you will find it interesting.
Today, tennis great Roger Federer lost in the fourth round of the 2013 U.S. Open. There was a time, literally four months ago, in which the thought of Federer losing so early in a major tournament wasn’t a possibility. There was the legendary major semifinal streak of 23 which was snapped and led to a major quarterfinal streak of 36. Think about that, Federer (in a game that’s fairly topsy turvy and requires ultimate fitness) was in the final four or final eight for 36 straight majors.
For those unaware, major games (the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open) are the bigger trophies in tennis. There are only four majors per year (which makes Federer’s streak all the more impressive) and they are the most contested. Its the ultimate test of mental fortitude and physical fitness as men play to a “best of five” series as opposed to the atypical “best of three”.
But now, Federer who at 32 years of age is a geriatric in the tennis world, appears to be slipping quickly as these things tend to do. Sports, just like life, can be the cruelest reminder of how fragile the things around you are. One moment you are completely in charge of your destiny, the next you are covered in sweat and agonizing on what lies ahead.
Of course that’s a tad dramatic but that’s what sports mean to a lot of us. Its entertainment that borders the intersection of obsession and over saturation. Sports can be deadly, they can be triumphant but most importantly its temporary. Yeah, the Phillies lost but life continues.
When sports become personal though, it showcases how easy we can be tossed aside in the grand scheme of things. Most of us, at one point, were in organizational sports. The ones who loved it, and that’s most of the most (but certainly not all) would do anything to lace up the shoes, put on the pads or strap on the gloves just one more time.
But eventually the sport catches up to us or we just stop progressing. We tend to max out on what we can do while the other athletes with superior genes continue to trek on. Then those best players from your local league only make it so far which is a testament to what type of skill it takes to play at the next level. It also shows us that we have limits and they can hurt.
I’m nearing the last year of my athletic career (I run cross country at the Division II NCAA level) and it certainly is on my mind. I’ve been in sports for seventeen years. I played travel soccer, I played baseball until tenth grade, I dabbled in basketball at one point in life and I discovered my last love later in life compared to the others. I have suffered through injuries, horribly timed illnesses, and inconsistency as well as even mental weakness. But its all worth it. The friends I made, the fun I had and the fleeting successes sports have brought me has made me a better person.
Unfortunately, and all former athletes can attest to this, those fleeting successes turn into glimmers of hope and then to absolute despair. There is a definitive end whether that’s due to graduation, a comparative lack of skill or straining under the pressure and walking away as its just not worth it anymore. As an athlete ages, those glimmers of hope become dimmer.
You’ll think to yourself “well, I just KILLED that workout” only to struggle in the race. Then you’ll try to find a silver lining such as “well I felt better than last time” but even that progresses from a gentle fib to an outright lie. Then you have to come to grips with the thought that your athletic career is ending and while you will go on to do such great things in life (or even just have mini victories); nothing will compare to that moment where you pushed your body past an originally impossible notion to a new maximum.
“Now I know for a fact that I can run a mile in the 4:30s, what’s next?”.
But most of your life is not at your absolute peak. Life isn’t linear at all, some people feel better at 50 than they do at 20. But in sports, you are looking at an exceedingly exponential lifespan. The fastest I have ran so far in the mile was when I was 17. The fastest I ran a 5k was at 18. The slowest I ran a 5k on the track was also at 18. My slowest race in college happened at 20. The biggest drop-off in time in my career was 14 which also represented the slowest I ran.
This brings us to the man we are talking about in Roger Federer. While I can never count out somebody with as much talent as he did (and 17 major titles makes the case that he could go down as the greatest ever), it does seem obvious that he may not have a Tommy Haas type resurgence later in life. The champion usually hangs on until those glimmers of hope exist only in their head.
I never played tennis competitively though became a fan and occasionally play with my friends. Federer is what drew me to the game, he was the antithesis of all my stereotypes regarding tennis. He didn’t grunt and groan when he hit the ball (one of a very small few), he wasn’t a HUGE server that could light up a radar gun nor was he a guy that only competed four times a year.
It sounds horrifically cliche but the way he played the game was amazing. The best piece of sportswriting in my life time was the late, great David Foster Wallace’s profile on him which you really should take the time out of your day to read. That piece sums him up in more ways that I could imagine.
There are times where athletes seem so ridiculous on the court but you only find out later that they weren’t as majestic as they seem. Michael Jordan isn’t a great GM (at all) and he seems like kind of a total narcissistic tool, the almost definition of the typical jock. Alex Rodriguez, who could’ve owned some of the most hallowed records in baseball may not have been clean. Barry Bonds is the same way. Lance Armstrong was just as sociopathic seeming as Jordan and this is the guy with one of the most laudable life stories imaginable. Brett Favre had a Anthony Weiner type “love life” and Tiger Woods made Favre seem like a nice, older man.
These were the iconic athletes of my generation. Peyton Manning might be up there but his one Super Bowl ring makes some question his legacy. Tom Brady just can’t beat Eli Manning when it matters, Ray Lewis will be forever dogged by that night in question and does the country really like Sidney Crosby or consider Jeff Gordon as loved as Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty?
But there was always Federer. Sure he wasn’t a saint, there have been some moments where that whole “magic” thing seemed vomit inducing. But here was a dominant athlete who appeared to be clean and actually treated people pretty well. Fans loved him, sportswriters fawned over him and I think most people in this country could recognize his name as being synonymous with the sport he played.
He never got into trouble off the court, in fact he almost seemed a tad reclusive compared to the made-for-TMZ life of Tiger Woods. He had his fair share of commercials but besides those awful Gillette commercials, what would you know him as? A tennis player.
Maybe Roger has one last dramatic run waiting inside him. After all the greats sometimes do end with a loud grunt rather than a soft groan. Maybe we will witness one last epic match with Rafa Nadal or maybe Andy Murray will be stymied by him once again. Maybe we’ll get to hear one last long piece on him that summarizes his career and adds in the fact that he went out with a bang.
But not everyone gets those fairytale endings. Life rarely ends at your personal peak, it usually is sudden or dragged on. One moment you are there, the next you aren’t.
Sports are no different.