Should An Athlete Lie About His Age?

Here is a letter I wrote to Richard Justice, the dean of the Houston sportswriters, who had written an annoying piece in which the mendacity of the heroic athlete was excused by the fact that, after all, he was just a victim of a cruel society and there was nothing wrong with screwing a rich guy who owns a baseball team.

Dear Mr. Justice,

I note that the Sports staff of the Chronicle has now adopted the position that Miguel Tejada’s misrepresentation of his age, to the baseball organization that initially signed him up, was no big deal, not worthy of further attention, and, if a crime, a crime without a victim.  In any event, the view was expressed that lying about one’s age is, if indeed inappropriate conduct at all, justified if one grew up in difficult circumstances and could not have advanced his career without lying.

I disagree.  Baseball, unlike sportswriting, is a profession for the young, and there is a reason for that:  one’s physical skills diminish with age, even if one’s mental skills (such as they are) do not.  Although the longevity of baseball players has increased lately by a few years, based upon advances in physical training and chemistry, even the best athletes eventually see their skills decline with age – one of the standard reference-points is the vision of the elderly Willie Mays staggering around in center field.

Baseball executives have every right to be concerned about a player’s age, and to want to know it precisely, because they want to be able to make intelligent decisions about personnel.  If the average big-league career of a ballplayer were, say, 8 years, and if advancing age tended to be the reason why the athletes could not continue to compete at the highest level for a longer period of time, a player’s age could be important.  Adding two years to a player’s assumed age could reduce the probable duration of the period during which he could continue to play effectively, even if it did not necessarily mean that the individual’s career would be exactly two years shorter than it would have been had his real age been known.

As a veteran sportswriter, you are undoubtedly familiar with many stories about skilled players who never made it to the big leagues (or did so only belatedly) because, by the time they were deemed sufficiently skilled and there finally was an opening for them with the parent club, they were deemed to have too few productive-years remaining.  There is, after all, a perfectly valid reason why Mr. Tejada was asked about his age.  As for this being a crime without a victim, that is false; the victim was the organization that signed him based upon the lie, because they were wrongfully denied information that could have led them to evaluate Mr. Tejada differently – to spell it out, they were cheated.

I do not think the Chronicle sets a very good standard, especially for its younger readers, when it adopts the position that lying and cheating are OK, that morality is a relative concept that varies on the basis of the extent of the harm it may appear to have caused, and that immoral behavior is excused when the perpetrator has grown up in difficult circumstances.

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