Yo, fans: Give these young kids a break

New York Plunges into Civil War. Montreal Avoids Riot. Miami Protects Most Valuable Asset.

It seems that those damn kids are hogging all the headlines again. Yankees Universe is on the brink of implosion as fans of the Evil Empire are engaged in a struggle between the Joba-Chamberlain-Needs-to-Start faction and the Leave-the-Kid-Alone brigade. This 22-year-old phenom may be able to dial up a 101-mph fastball and dominate the debate of an entire city (and universe … as if that exists), but he still is years away from being able to rent a car.

Carey Price, 20, meanwhile, has successfully saved the Montreal Canadiens from elimination after shutting out the Bruins in game seven of their first playoff series. Had the Canadiens blown a 3-1 series lead, the players would have been victimized in their homes. Literally. Montreal is that hockey-nuts. Especially about their rookie goalie.

The Miami Dolphins, meanwhile, just reached a contract with soon-to-be No. 1 pick Jake Long, 22, in the NFL Draft. They hope Long will help ensure their second-year quarterback John Beck, 26, will attempt passes from his feet, not from the fetal position. And maybe help them double their win total to two.

This week’s top stories are no exception. Whether its Jacoby Ellsbury, 24, and Troy Tulowitzki, 23, powering their respective teams’ drives to the World Series last October (see my first column of the year, 10/25/07), Michael Beasley dominating his one year in college basketball (12/12/07) or Major League Baseball veterans unable to find work this season (3/5/08), all of this year’s top stories seem centered on fresh blood being injected into the professional-sports world.

Where’s my signing bonus?

I realize I have few discernible athletic skills. But I’ve got a lot of heart. And I now apparently have enough experience to be a professional athlete and handle the media attention that comes with it. I’m about the same age as reigning NHL MVP Sidney Crosby, 20.

But who am I kidding? If I had real talent and were a professional athlete, I would probably be in jail. I have trouble handling criticism from friends who get tired of my incessant jokes and professors who think I can’t do economics problem sets (despite the fact that they’re right). And despite the years I spent playing and watching sports — probably many more than I should have — I feel as though I have enough experience to step onto the ice or field with those players in the same way Dennis Kucinich has enough experience to be president. We’re not ready for the next level.

It’s no wonder that the Texas Rangers’ Josh Hamilton, 26, started doing drugs about a half decade ago when he was a top “Baseball America” prospect. The constant attention he received from media that support “Baseball America,” a publication of baseball’s “future” — or kids who can barely drive cars — could turn even the most stable member of the community into a wreck. Michelle Wie, 18, was the age of a middle-schooler when she captured the national spotlight, ditto soccer star Freddie Adu, 18. Can you blame them for losing their cool under pressure or for shunning the media?

Some teams, like the Oakland Athletics, can’t afford to pay established players. Other teams, like the Cleveland Indians, attempt to sign players when they’re young and retain them through their prime years. The net result is that younger and younger players are featured prominently in rosters in every major sport and garnering the fan and media attention that comes along with those positions.

Thank goodness I can’t skate particularly fast. And that my best fastball barely reaches 70 mph. Because the media pounce on kids who are becoming the epicenter of the sports world, and it takes superhuman composure and maturity to remain a model of poise and character when people three- and four-times your age are yelling for your head.

So back off the kids. Think about how you acted when you were their age. Sure, they may be making the big bucks, but they’re still the same age as those of us who only have to worry about the pressure applied by ourselves and our parents during finals or our bosses in our first jobs.

Collin Gutman, 20, is a sophomore in Pierson College.

Comments