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Reelin' In the Years

Pretty soon, I'll only be able to root for athletes that are younger than me, and this makes me mad

August 17, 2021

Julian Finney

News just came out that Roger Federer is set to have his third knee surgery, that he'll be out for "many months," and will miss the U.S. Open and probably the Australian next year, at minimum. The man is 40 now, and though he might be the one human being capable of an insane miracle in a year or so, it's almost a dead certainty that he's won his last major.

I am 38 years old, and Roger Federer is one of the last elite athletes in the world, competing at the top of his game, who is older than me. He was one of the last people I could have cheered for that wasn't younger; once Serena is gone from the women's game, tennis is completely over for me. In football, I've got Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger (no thanks), and a small handful of offensive lineman, longsnappers, and kickers. In the NBA, it's down to Udonis Haslem, who just signed for his 19th season, and between you and me, I'm not super into becoming a hardcore Udonis Haslem fan. He's fine and all, but I'm not that desperate yet. There are nine players left in Major League Baseball who meet the criteria, and some of them are very good, and one even plays for my team (let's go, Darren O'Day!), but even there I've got 1-2 years MAX before the window shuts. Essentially, I'm holding on to the last threads in every sport except golf, where I can probably coast for another decade before it gets really bad.

I knew this day was coming—logic tells you that if you live long enough, you will eventually have to root for younger people—but it doesn't soften the blow. We get into sports as children, and we look up to our favorite athletes as gods, and there's comfort in knowing that they're bigger and older than us and we can view them as though they exist on a different, better plane. We take solace in our youth, and their superhero stature is due in no small part to their age.

Now, if I'm going to continue enjoying sports, I have to reckon with two facts:

1. I'll have to appreciate the talents and personalities of younger people, and as all people have understood throughout history, at every time and place, young people are terrible and frightening.

2. Unlike the very athletic and limber people on TV, I'm basically an immobile dead person.

Obviously, I learned long ago to appreciate sports without idolizing anyone, but now I'm entering the stage where I'll have to actively fight against resentment. I'm still young enough that I don't feel super old, but I'm already beginning to understand that there is no greater insult another human can commit than being younger than me. Increasingly, more and more people will insult me in this manner, and while I can avoid most of them by staying inside and glowering from my darkened window, in order to enjoy sports I'll have to suck it up and root for people who are, by comparison, kids.

The only real solution, the one which buys me the most time, is to pick an athlete just slightly older than me who is still playing well and who I can follow for the longest conceivable time before he hangs it up. And with that said, I would like to submit my application as the world's newest and biggest fan of...

(checks notes)

Louis Oosthuizen.

The Truly Impressive Debt Number of the Week: Barcelona

There's debt, and then there's serious, grinding debt, and this week we have to tip our caps to Barcelona, which revealed that it's total debt now stands at $1.35 billion.

BILLION!

That's so much debt. At this point, Barcelona and Madrid are like their own nations, and just as with America, I'm not even sure that debt is especially meaningful considering their relative power, and I'm always convinced that at any point the city will just forgive the whole lump sum, or something. Still, how the hell does a soccer club get mismanaged so comprehensively that it ever even approaches one billion dollars in debt? That is remarkable.

And it's having a practical effect. Messi is gone to Paris, and those who are opting to stick around are taking significant wage cuts. It's a disaster of epic proportions, and almost makes me wish I was a bigger soccer fan.

The Truly Impressive Baseball Card Price of the Week: Honus Wagner

I like the idea of memorabilia, and of quaint, rare things appreciating in value, but I'm not sure I'll ever understand why it happens. Why, for instance, did a Honus Wagner card just sell for $6.6 million? It's a two inch by three inch piece of cardboard with a photo on it, does nothing for anyone, and yet has taken on such mystique that if you gave Barcelona like 200 of them, it could pay off its entire club debt. (There are actually only 60 in existence, but it would at least give Barca a head start.)

It's sort of the way I feel about TV commercials—I don't get it, I don't think they actually work, and yet I'm glad the system exists because if people didn't place value and trust in weird things, pretty soon our entire system would collapse. And if nothing else, this gives me a chance to root for someone far, far older than me. If Honus Wagner were alive today, he'd be 147 years old. In my imminent old age, that's the kind of superstar I can get behind.