Jul 10, 2019

In Good Faith: Where Are They Now

In my July In Good Faith column, I write about connections to the past through long-forgotten sports stars.

Where Are They Now?

My favorite Sports Illustrated issue of the year came in the mail this week. No, not that
issue. That one comes the week after the Super Bowl, and I’m decidedly not in the market for a new swimsuit. 

I’m referring to the magazine’s annual Where Are They Now feature. For years, Sports Illustrated has been catching up with stars who long ago left the bright lights of the headlines. Some of these highlighted athletes remain in the public consciousness, while others have drifted away as quickly as they burst onto the scene.

I’ve long loved this particular issue, and I always end up reading a lot more of the magazine than I normally do — which, in middle age, has mostly become flipping through the pictures and handing it to my sports-crazed eldest son. 

But this issue’s different. For one thing, Ben hasn’t heard of many of the profiled players. Like most of his contemporaries, he’s concerned with the here and now of pro sports; with the stats and standings and current stars. And I get that this is basically a nostalgia issue, a bone tossed to my generation. When I find the time to sit down with it, there’s always a lot of inner “Oh, yeah! I remember that guy. I wonder what he’s been up to since his glory days?”

It’s hard to know why these stories resonate so deeply. Part of it is voyeurism, to be sure. Who among us hasn’t Googled an old girlfriend or boyfriend? But mostly it plays to the natural longing for connections to our past. If I can learn what a childhood hero of mine has been up to of late, say former Orioles slugger Eddie Murray, I can somehow reconnect to a part of my life that has long been repressed. Suddenly, I’m an 8-year-old sitting in the stands with my late father at the since-demolished Memorial Stadium in Baltimore with a .75 hot dog in one hand and my baseball glove in the other, chanting “Ed-die, Ed-die!”

There’s also a deep sense of humanity that plays out in these articles. During a star’s playing days, we’re mostly concerned with statistics and on-field performance. We rarely stop to consider what kind of person we may be rooting for or against. Players have images, for sure, but these are often highly crafted by agents and public relations professionals. Here, then, is a glimpse behind the curtain, a chance to see someone outside the lines.

There’s something about revealing the unvarnished humanity that reminds us that these aren’t superheroes, but people like you and me, but with particular talents and supernatural hand-eye coordination. Or, from a spiritual perspective, these are all children of God, reflecting all the joys and imperfections of humanity. Some have gone on to find new passions — former Red Sox star Kevin Youkilis runs an award-winning brewery in California — and some have encountered more tragedy than acclaim — William “The Refrigerator” Perry daily battles alcoholism and issues of mental health. 

I think there are lessons for all of us embedded in these stories. We’re reminded that life does indeed go on. Some of us remain prisoners of the past, some of us move on into new and exciting challenges. Most of us remain somewhere in-between. But it’s important to reflect back on our lives, even while looking ahead to the future. We all have various chapters in our lives, albeit not necessarily ones lived out on highlight reels. And we must continually seek ways to stay in the game. 

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