Professional Athletes in a Brave New World: Aldous Huxley Need Not Apply

Mike StangerCorrespondent IJune 5, 2011

ATHENS, GREECE - AUGUST 9: A labratory technician works at the Doping Control Laboratory of Athens during the final days before the start of the 2004 Olympic Games August 9, 2004 in Athens. The Olympic Games will start on Friday, August 13. (Photo by Ian Waldie/Getty Images)    *** Local Caption ***
Ian Waldie/Getty Images

Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World as a dystopian view of the future.  His outlook was shaped by a belief that the current trends of the time would lead to a less-than-idealistic world.

Obviously, Huxley would not have been a fan of the designated hitter.

Like Huxley, the older generation of sports fans has a dystopian view of current and future generations of athletes.  The athletes from their generation played the game better, they believe, and did it for the love of the game. 

In many instances, the old-timers claim that the abilities of ballplayers from their time were actually superior to today’s edition.

Furthermore, many believe that the future of sports is bleak and that athletes are becoming nothing more than highly-paid, drug-enhanced mercenaries with no passion for the sport which pays them handsomely.

I say “Hogwash” to it all.

First of all, the players from generations past are not as good as the athletes today.  Anyone claiming differently is either grossly naïve or disingenuous beyond the pale.

One only has to do a quick YouTube search of highlight reels from the past and present to see the disparity between eras.

For example, Bob Cousy may have been a great ball-handler in his day, perhaps the best, but his skills appear rudimentary compared to the average point guard playing in the NBA today. 

This is no slight on Cousy.  Indeed, he was an extraordinary player for his time, and relative to that time, stood above the rest.  Yet, the standard that he set has been exceeded tenfold generations later.

Or compare Sonja Henie to Michelle Kwan.  Again, no disrespect to Henie—she was dominating in her day—but her skills seem pedestrian when juxtaposed with Kwan's.  In fact, many pre-teens at the local ice rink can do the stuff Henie did in her day.

Let’s face it—athletes evolve.  And that evolution has come about through more rigorous training regiments, better nutrition and, yes, more advanced performance-enhancing substances, either legal or not. 

Perhaps it is the latter part that feeds the disillusionment many feel about the future of sports. Unfortunately, this disillusionment is misguided by an ill-informed understanding of the past.

Regardless of the Pollyanna view shared by many seasoned folks, old school athletes weren’t as pure as people may believe.

Take a look at Jim Bouton's Ball Four to see that baseball players in the Sixties were popping "greenies" (slang for amphetamines) to give them pep through a long season.  Or, read an ESPN report about the San Diego Chargers experimenting with steroids in 1963.

Yes, players used performance enhancement back then, but it wasn't reported, either due to ignorance or a more co-operative press. Nowadays, players are subjected to constant scrutiny from a relentless press and a better informed public.

You see, players will always look for an edge in every era; it just happens that the modern athlete has access to better enhancers.  And the future athlete will have more advanced science at his disposal than the athletes of this era.

But this doesn't mean that everything will take a turn for the worse.  It just means that things will be different, which will lead to a new wave of romantics pining for the "good old days."

However, I won't take a Huxley-like approach to the future of sports.  I prefer to take my cue from someone more contemporary, like Billy Joel, who sang these profound words:

"Cause the good ole days weren't always good, and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems."

I couldn't agree more.