The cover story of Sunday’s New York Times Magazine was about Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter turning 37 — “an age that, for a professional athlete, is nothing to celebrate” the subtitle warns. Denied clubhouse access for the first time ever, sportswriter Michael Sokolove writes, “If I learned anything over the course of working on this article, it is that aging is a sensitive issue.” That’s for sure — but his article skirts the heart of the matter.
Sokolov quotes Susan Jacoby at length, who says that aging is a big deal for athletes because “that decline occurs in public.” In fact all of us age in public, if not in the glare of celebrity. This includes the examples Jacoby gives of “private” aging: a math professor with memory lapses (whose students will notice), or a man with erectile disfunction (whose lover[s] must cope). Aging is not shameful, but collusion of the sort Sokolove describes — “We see [Jeter] getting old, but we’re supposed to pretend he is just in a prolonged slump” — renders it so. It does Jeter no favors, and makes the inevitable reckonings, public or private, more difficult for the rest of us.