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Point/Counterpoint: For professional athletes, how young is too young?

BY DI EDITORIAL STAFF | APRIL 14, 2015 5:00 AM

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Over the weekend, Jordan Spieth won the Masters, became the second youngest golfer to take home the title. Is a trend of younger and younger athletes something to be worried about?

Life beyond sports

Twenty-one-year-old professional golfer Jordan Spieth won the PGA Masters in Augusta, Georgia, becoming the second-youngest golfer behind Tiger Woods to achieve such a feat. As amazing as his victory is, questions should be asked about the trend of athletes ascending to high professional ranks at such a young age.

The thinking in these matters should not begin nor end with evaluation of skill. It goes without question that Spieth has talent and athletic ability in spades, but is that the only consideration that should be taken into account when having the conversation about the age of professional athletes? It takes more than skill and talent to be a truly successful professional athlete, and there are benefits to giving athletes time to develop not only as practitioners of a sport but as well-rounded individuals as well.

This suggestion is not one that can be universally applied to every athlete. However, it is an idea that should be kept in mind as the prominence of young athletes rises. There are intangible parts of life that cannot be measured by scoreboards and endorsements, and perpetuating a culture that belittles the importance of these intangible parts will only do the athlete a disservice in the long run.

This argument is the most applicable when discussing college athletics but should be applied in a broader sense to all athletics. An education is the most tangible way to measure life experience and the corresponding influence on quality of life, but even in the classroom there are things that cannot be taught.

These life skills are best learned through experience, which may be hard to squeeze in amid training, tournaments, and a culture that values victory first and foremost.

There has to be a balance between life and success in athletics, and rushing the process only makes it harder for younger athletes to differentiate and accommodate the two. The discussion should not be how best to capitalize on the success close at hand, but what will remain for these young athletes when their bodies are no longer able to compete at a professional level?   

This is not to say that athletes should be kept from performing at their skill level. It is only to say that a holistic approach must be taken when evaluating the equation as a whole. Professional success is all well and good, but it is not something that can be relied on to fulfill all that life may require as the athlete grows older.

We must keep in mind that these are young men and women with lives that will continue long after we stop watching them on ESPN.   

Marcus Brown

Let them compete in their prime

My dad used to talk about how he really started feeling old when professional athletes started being younger than him. Of course, he would say this in his 40s. I never thought I would be able to say the same thing at the ripe old age of 20.

Across the board, it seems like young athletes are not only leaving college to start their professional sports careers but are becoming some of the best players in their respective leagues.

On Sunday, Jordan Spieth won the Masters. At approximately 21 years, 8 months old, Spieth is the second youngest to win the Masters, behind Tiger Woods. Incidentally, he also tied Tiger’s record for the best tournament score.

Some of the youngest names in Major League Baseball — Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Manny Machado, to name a few — are also some of the best. All of these players are under the age of 23 and started their career more than a year ago.

Moreover, according to CBS Sports, there are seven Kentucky basketball players — all underclassmen — who will enter, or are at least considering entering, the NBA draft. Tyus Jones, the poster child of the NCAA champion Duke basketball team — only a freshman and more than two years younger than me — is also strongly considering entering the NBA draft.

These athletes are prime examples of students that chose their athletics careers over their academic careers — with overwhelmingly positive results.

As you approach college age in high school, most counselors will encourage attending some sort of educational institution — all the while explaining that college just may not be for some. With athletes, this premise is particularly true.

The fact is that individuals with exceptional athletic ability will not maintain that physical prowess their entire life. What they will maintain, for some time at least, is the ability to learn — the ability to partake in education.

It is true that many of these athletes may get injured and many may not have very long careers. However, short athletics careers open doors for these athletes to return to school should they choose to do so.

But it isn’t just the athletes who benefit from these decisions — it’s the fans as well.

Last week, leading up to the Masters, Nike Golf released an ad titled “Ripple.” The ad showed a young Irish boy watching a young Tiger Woods dominate the PGA Tour. As the advertisement progresses, we see that the young Irish boy is exactly who we imagined it would be — Rory McIlroy.

The ad ends with McIlroy playing along side Tiger — exactly as the Masters ended last weekend.

Joe Lane


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