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Tuesday (A world in which athletes never grow old) edition: Wha' Happened?

Posted by: Michael Rand under Sports Updated: February 19, 2013 - 9:23 AM

We finally finished Drew Magary's debut novel, "The Postmortal," last night. Those of you who have not read it should know that there is very little ALL-CAPS. There is only swearing when appropriate. There is very little talk about bowel movements. In other words, it is not an extension of Drew's work at Deadspin or KSK by any means. In fact, it is a very good novel about a near-future in which a cure for aging has been invented.

That's the main premise, and from there Drew takes the reader on a nice ride -- one that could have gone a number of different directions. As it is, the book picks up, in a manner of speaking, where famed authors such as George Orwell and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. left off.

Because it is a more serious work, it does not examine in any great length the impact of "the cure" on sports. Naturally, though, that is one thing we started to think about after putting the book down at its finish.

Imagine a world in which the best athletes in their sports -- Barry Bonds, LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Wayne Gretzky, anyone -- could have had their age frozen in their primes. They could be 27 forever, theoretically playing for hundreds or even thousands of years so long as they never contracted a disease or met their death accidentally.

At the outset, much like in The Postmortal society at large, this sounds wonderful. We can see our favorite players in perpetuity. Jordan never has to turn 50 (and ESPN doesn't have to celebrate Michael Jordan Birthday Month). We never have to look at LeBron and wonder, "Has he lost a step?" Gretzky can top 10,000 goals and 20,000 assists. With the best players playing, every sport is elevated -- no more neutral zone traps, etc.

Ultimately, though, this would be problematic in a lot of ways. First, wouldn't it get kind of boring? Part of the charm of an athlete's career is watching the arc -- seeing them get better, reach a point of dominance and then see how long they can hold onto that dominance. Second, there would be less and less room for emerging athletes as time wore on. As long as the odds are now of making it as a top pro athlete, imagine trying to do so 50 years from the day a cure for aging is invented. You're not only competing against your peer group, but theoretically the best in-their-prime athletes from the past half-century. Third, part of the fun of sports is the flicker of hope that your team is getting better -- that the players your team has or your team is getting will eclipse another team, whose athletes have lost a step or have left. We can imagine a very stagnant post-mortal sports world. If you think the Heat is a super-team now, imagine 50 years from now when Miami has won 43 of the most recent NBA titles.

In any event, we think many of the things that seem wonderful about never aging would become burdens on the sports world, just as they were in the Postmortal society at large.

That said, we invite any more theories, concepts or rebuttals in the comments.


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