Sunday, April 21

A Final Sports-Related Post

WishWatch has come out against my suggestion of dropping age restrictions in North American professional sports leagues. Mr. Wishnia, wither your free-market instincts? You don't have to favor child labor to see the fundamental inconsistency of allowing a 16-year-old with no specific talent or career prospects of any kind to drop out of school to pump gas for a living while denying his supremely talented 16-year-old classmate the ability to leave school to pursue a lucrative career as a professional athlete.

Two further points make the artificial distinction even more absurd.

1. 16-year-old American athletes can already leave school to earn salaries as professional athletes . . . provided the sport they happen excel at is soccer. Young Canadian and American footballers already sign with European soccer teams when they are as young as 15. I also think that, after the success of 19-year-old French point guard Tony Parker in San Antonio and Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas, who played professionally in Germany before he was eligible for the NBA draft, we will begin to see a trend towards high-school basketball starts signing with European pro teams for a year or two before they are draft eligible.

2. The nature of North American professional sports will impose its own limit on the number of players who could ever make the leap to the professional ranks at a young age. Wayne Gretzky, a once-in-a-lifetime talent if ever there was one, played professional hockey at the age of 17 (as have a few Russian players in recent years) but hockey is too physically demanding for most teenagers to survive at the highest level. Ditto football, but even more so. Baseball and basketball are the two sports in which an outstanding 16 or 17-year-old might be able to play with grown men, but even in these sports it would be much more unlikely than in a sport that relies far more on skill than brawn like soccer.

Post away!