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Insights: Sports

Mark Starr
From the Print Edition:
Rudy Giuliani, Nov/Dec 01

(continued from page 1)

Because sports' economic scale has kept pace with celebrity's, retiring stars seldom have to figure out a second career or a path to financial security. Without necessity prodding them, they drift into idleness, punctuated by nothing more compelling than golfing forays. There is plenty of time to dwell, even to obsess, on yesteryear glories. Ironically, it's only the golfers, the real ones, who have come up with an ideal solution. With the senior circuit, the players can fade away gradually, weaned through a slightly dimmer limelight until, like Arnold Palmer at 71, they conclude that it's finally time to set the putter down.

Put the old-timers on a slightly shorter, less treacherous course and they can still wow us. But golf may be a unique model. Nobody wants to see Reggie Jackson hit them out of a Little League park, Carl Lewis run the 30, or Julius Erving slam-dunk on an eight-foot-high hoop. Moreover, we fans don't need it. The transcendent sports moments of our lives -- Carlton's Fisk's home run, Montana's TD toss to Dwight Clark, Brandi's bra, Michael's steal and shot -- are etched in our memories. And when there's a lapse, we aging fans now have at our fingertips, in ESPN Classic and its ilk, the sports equivalent of Viagra -- getting us up for the games and the glory 24 hours a day.

The athletes, whose glories we celebrate, may never be able to find quite as satisfying an alternative. A life of sand wedges, annuities and parent-teacher conferences can't deliver the emotional adrenaline to rival sports stardom. But the comeback is far more of an illusion than a solution. After the first thrilling hurrahs, a hero's performance is measured in decidedly unsentimental terms. Indeed, perhaps even harshly because, with disappointment, there is a sense of betrayal. The tradeoff for a few more hits, hoops, goals or standing ovations is almost always a large blemish that stands forever as the final chapter of a storied career.

 

Mark Starr is the national sports correspondent for Newsweek.


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