15 Signs Your Favorite Athlete Is Getting Older
Until you're squarely in the stage of "turning lemons into lemonade," the idea of getting older is full of minuses and lean on the pluses.
When your youth is in the rear-view mirror, you aren't just leaving behind your preciously naive former self, but also things like the ability to function on two hours of sleep and a metabolic rate that feared neither hoagie nor six-pack of oatmeal stout.
However, anyone who has already accepted their fate as an aging, mortal man also knows that while time spent in front of the mirror becomes less gratifying with each passing year, you also start to get way better at stringing together coherent thoughts and not making terrible decisions (usually).
The same holds true for your favorite athlete—time inevitably robs the crispness of a quarterback's throw and the sizzle off a tennis pro's backhand. But, getting older also means making better decisions and, therefore, finding different (and sometimes more effective) ways to be a strong competitor.
Away from the game, the aging athlete trades bottle service for baby bottles, and suddenly the team becomes a bigger focus now that morning practice doesn't involve the vodka-sweats.
Yep—getting older has no loophole, so here are the signs your favorite athlete is getting older.
He's Spending a Lot of Time on ESPN
Athletes of any age can be seen on ESPN throughout the course of the year—that’s kinda what the network is all about. But there’s a distinct difference between a brief stop by SportsCenter and a regular seat on the set.
Toward the end of their careers, it’s only natural that many athletes will begin to think about next steps. For some, that next step is a career in broadcasting, so they take any and every opportunity provided to gain experience.
Washington Redskins safety Ryan Clark has been making regular appearances at the First Take desk for years now and has also filled in on the NFL Live panel during the offseason. St. Louis Cardinals catcher A.J. Pierzynski has joined the Fox Sports team during the playoffs more than once. Both guys are in the twilight of their respective careers.
He's Playing a Lot More Golf
With few exceptions, you aren’t likely to find many first- or second-year players spending their respective offseasons on the golf course. These guys are young, rich, single and ready to mingle. Like, for example, Patriots tight end Rob “Sorry (Not Sorry!) for Partying” Gronkowski.
By the time an athlete reaches his late 20s/early 30s, hosting poolside parties in Las Vegas that end up on TMZ is just not a good look. Particularly if he’s married.
That’s when a lot of athletes get serious about their golf games. Charles Barkley, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are among the countless athletes who spend (or spent, as the case may be) a good portion of the offseason out on the greens. Despite the practice, though, most aren’t particularly skilled at the game.
One noteworthy exception is Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, whose game isn’t just good for a football player—it’d be good for a professional golfer. In 2010, Romo advanced further than a number of pros in the U.S. Open qualifying round, and in 2012, he shot a lower round than partner Tiger Woods at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
He's Got One or More Mentees
Let’s get real. The reason we don’t see too many harmonious mentor-mentee relationships in professional sports is because that’s the most positive spin on a situation in which an older employee is expected to properly train the his eventual replacement, knowing full well he’s putting himself out of a job.
Think Cris Carter and Randy Moss in Minnesota. Michael Vick and Geno Smith in New York. Bill Belichick and Eric Mangini (or Charlie Weiss or Josh McDaniels) in New England. Of, of course, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. Some relationships are more successful than others, but you’ll never find a 25-year-old guy acting as a mentor.
His Social Life Has Slowed Slightly
Whether by distraction or design, even the social lives of the biggest players in sports tend to slow down after long enough in the game. Most of them get married and have kids along the way, but even dedicated bachelors start settling down for stretches.
Over the course of his career with the Yankees, legendary shortstop/national treasure Derek Jeter dated some of the most beautiful women in the world—many in fairly quick succession. After three years with stunning actress Minka Kelly, Jeter somehow managed to upgrade with an even more stunning model, Hannah Davis.
It’s not that The Jeet isn’t still knocking it out of the park in the dating department, but his semi-serious long-term relationships don’t provide nearly the level of gossip fodder flings with the likes of Mariah Carey did years ago.
His Best Friend on the Team Is the Coach
Everyone of a certain age knows that at some point, you realize you have more in common with parental types than college-kid types. Because of the locker-room camaraderie, athletes probably get to hang on to their respective youths a little longer than the rest of us, but eventually opportunities for off-the-field bonding dwindle as the age gap widens.
At 35 years old, Saints quarterback Drew Brees is more than a decade older than most of his teammates—at this point, he’s their leader more than their friend. Which is why his best friend within the Saints organization seems to be Sean Payton. The two keep in close contact during the offseason, and only Brees could get away with pranking the head coach at training camp.
He's Started Playing by His Own Rules
At some point, athletes with enough star power and cachet realize the rules no longer apply to them in the same way they apply to others. They decide they don’t play by anybody’s rules except their own, and on occasion, not even those (like Craig Hoffman).
Lakers great Kobe Bryant is a prime example of a guy held to a different set of standards today than he was 10-plus years ago. His opinion has the power to get people traded or fired, and last season he peaced out for a vacation in France before the season ended.
He's Lost His Combative Edge
Former NFL wide receiver Terrell Owens isn’t the only example of this, but he is by far the best. Known as a supremely talented but cancerous presence throughout most of his career, T.O. played for five different teams in seven years, none of which was sorry to see him leave.
Owens absolutely obliterated locker rooms in San Francisco, Philadelphia and Dallas before settling in for a one-year stint with the Bills in 2009. By the time he got to Buffalo, T.O. just wasn’t himself anymore, on or off the field. All of that team-morale destruction must be draining.
Owens had a brief resurgence in Cincinnati for a season with a like-minded soul in former Bengals wideout Chad Ochocinco, who was also on his way out. In their prime, these guys were forces of nature with a proven knack for psychological warfare. By the end of 2010, however, they just seemed worn out and old beyond their years.
He's Gained Weight...and Lost Weight...and Gained Weight...
Athletes make a living on their physical abilities, but that doesn’t mean they're immune from the same weight struggles that impact such a large cross-section of the population. And for athletes who have issues with conditioning early in their careers, they often only get worse with age.
Of course, this doesn’t only apply to a lack of conditioning or unwanted weight gain. Athletes are always tweaking things, like bulking up or slimming down intentionally. Recently Cavaliers superstar LeBron James surprised many with a dramatic weight loss brought on by a low-carb diet.
James is a competitor at the highest level who is basically using his own body as a science experiment for success. Obviously the idea is to improve his game, which is pretty hard to imagine. We’ll have to wait a few more months to see how it all pans out, but there’s no question this type of endeavor better suits the mood and mentality found in mature athletes.
He's Wearing Street Clothes More Than Ever
Nature is the undisputed champion of everything. No amount of specialized training, state-of-the-art knee procedures or crazy-expensive supplement can stop the physical part of the aging process. These things may keep an athlete on the field or court a little longer, but if nature isn't landing haymakers, it's wearing them down with body blows.
For athletes, aging means more injuries, or losing an edge, or both—and there's no surer sign that an athlete is approaching the final round than when he starts spending a lot more time as a spectator in street clothes.
Miami Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade is a perfect example. Unquestionably one of the all-time greats of the game, the 11-year veteran has missed significant time on the court—and a drop in production—the past three seasons due to knee issues that have plagued the 32-year-old veteran during the latter part of his career.
Similarly, Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu will ultimately find his place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but the freakish athlete known for making acrobatic plays has struggled to stay healthy in recent years—missing five games in 2012 and seven in 2009.
He's the Only Guy Left from His Draft Class
Younger sports fans won’t really understand this one until their mid-late 30s. Even if you’re exceptionally knowledgeable of a sport’s draft classes as a kid, seeing guys retire in your 20s is a much different experience than when it happens in your 30s or 40s.
Let’s consider those who came of age around the time of the 1996 NFL Draft, which was the year kicker Adam Vinatieri was signed as a free agent by the Indianapolis Colts. High profile picks that year included Keyshawn Johnson, Terry Glenn, Marvin Harrison, Ray Lewis and Brian Dawkins. Vinatieri has outlasted all of them and is currently the oldest player in the league.
Going back a little further we’ve got the 1988 NHL Draft, which was the year recently retired superstar Teemu Selanne was drafted by the Winnipeg Jets. Other high profile picks included Mike Modano, Jeremy Roenick, Mark Recchi, Alexander Mogilny and Trevor Linden, all of whom Selanne outlasted by no less than three years.
He's Not Running Afoul of the Law as Much
It doesn’t matter how much of a rabble-rouser with criminal inclinations a person is, Father Time is the one opponent we can never outrun. Criminal activity is a young man’s game. Not necessarily the crime itself, but dealing with the aftermath and increasingly severe consequences certainly is.
Take, for example, Bengals cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones, who was constantly being arrested early in his career on inexplicably awful charges. Today he’s 30 years old, and the pace of his arrests has slowed and the severity of the charges has diminished substantially.
It’s hard to believe, but it’s been almost a full calendar year since Jones last ran afoul of the law. And the citation he received in Cincinnati for disorderly conduct last September probably would’ve been the least offensive thing he was charged with during the prior eight years.
He Started Chasing Championships
Being loyal to the team that drafted you and the fans that love you isn’t a hard sell for young athletes who still have their entire careers ahead of them. That changes at the midpoint for many of them who have yet to win a championship.
As each year passes, sitting around and waiting patiently for a ring that may never come becomes increasingly difficult. Some will remain loyal and hope for the best, while others, like NHL player Jarome Iginla, will jump around to four teams in three seasons, desperately trying to force the issue.
He Thinks Twice Before Taking a Needless Hit
There are a lot of young athletes, particularly in the NFL, who take more hits than they need to early in their careers because they feel like they have something to prove. And maybe they do. But football is an incredibly physical game in which playing smart is just as important after a certain age as playing hard.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is known for being very physical at the position—he doesn’t shy away from contact and has been known to dish it out on occasion too. Luck can do that because he’s 24. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers counted on his legs for four or five touchdowns and 300 rushing yards per season early in his career, but he’s 30 now and knows better.
These days Rodgers spends more time in the pocket scanning the field and less time on the run than he did a few years ago. And when he does take off, he’s far more likely to slide or get out of bounds than willingly get steamrolled by an overeager defender.
He's Not Afraid to Look Like a Dorky Dad
Athletes aren’t really any different than the rest of us in that the younger they are, the more important it is for them to be and/or look cool. Of course, always trying to be cool is positively exhausting, which is why most of us give up somewhere along the line.
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is a great example because, unlike playing football, nothing about being cool comes naturally to him. So he doesn’t even try. If he wants to study plays on an iPad while listening to practice in his helmet and soaking just one shoeless foot in a tub, well, that’s exactly what he’s going to do.
Manning has appeared in darn near every commercial ever made and has even been known to rap in them with his kid brother. He’s been known to wear mom jeans and is unrepentant about them. And most recently, Manning let his dorky dad flag fly at Broncos training camp when he busted out some fantastically dopey dance moves.
He's Gotten His Life Together
A lot of us spent those early years of adulthood frantically working to keep life together with a fraying piece of dental floss and the occasional bailout from Mom and/or Dad. And after emerging relatively intact, no one was probably more surprised than you.
The same holds true for athletes, albeit with a little more change in their pocket. Not everyone is born a 40-year-old man like the Broncos' Peyton Manning, or with a head and life mostly free of problems, so it's not surprising that some athletes defy the odds and turn a spiraling life and career around.
Few case studies are better at highlighting this phenomenon than that of Chicago Bears receiver Brandon Marshall. Early in his career, he seemed destined to be one of those supremely talented NFL players who wasted their potential because of off-the-field problems. After his wife was arrested following a domestic dispute that left him hospitalized in 2011, the then-26-year-old was at a low point, but instead of giving up, he sought help and learned he suffered from borderline personality disorder, a mental illness.
Since then, he has become a model NFL pro and a passionate advocate for mental health issues.