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A Guide to Living as a Washed-Up Athlete

Updated on April 23, 2012

So you came up a bit short...

Chances are that, if you're reading this, you're either a direct blood relative of mine or are currently at gunpoint while I demand you to read it aloud (just so I know you're reading it). Also, I'll assume you have utterly failed at your lifelong dream of becoming the clean-up hitter for the Yankees. Just because your hopes and dreams of professional athleticism have shriveled up like one of Mark McGwire's man-berries doesn't necessarily mean your life can't still amount to something. Meanwhile, there are a few things every has-been or never-was needs to realize before moving on.

Your past accomplishments aren't as awesome as you think...

Before I get into this one, I have to admit that I currently have a giant framed poster of myself in my room.

Not this one, something even more epic...
Not this one, something even more epic...

Even while I often try to feed my poster from my morning cereal as to not disappoint it, over time I have come to several realizations. Chiefly, I didn't want to become the beer-gutted buffoon with an ass-groove at his local sports bar who just waits for someone to share his old stories with. We all know this guy, and as annoying as he is, we can't help but feel a little sorry for him. Just move on, man.

The thing is, athletics put this feeling of superiority in everyone who develops an aptitude in any sport. From the Celts to the Greeks to literally any civilization worth anything, physical fitness and athleticism has acted as a status symbol that sets these people above the "normal people." We've been culturally conditioned to look up to athletes like gods, in essence (just ask any small child who his/her hero is). Because of this perceived importance, anyone who has played a sport in high school or college believes he/she has gained entrance into some club.

What we need to realize is that if you played a sport in high school, you are more than likely in the majority, not a minority.

And just notice how those numbers have been dropping through the years. We're no longer in the Revenge of the Nerds era where the jocks pick on the nerds; the nerds have already done their "revenge-ing." Kids have figured out that they don't need a letterman jacket to be "cool" anymore. So, as cool as we believed and still believe we were and are for being an athlete, all the signs point to the fact that we actually weren't and aren't that special. So, just as you don't care what level Dark Mage someone is in World of Warcraft, they, too, could give two shits about how many tackles you had as a linebacker in high school.

You can't put stats on a resume...

To all high school athletes aspiring to buy their moms a sweet house overlooking that lake from their childhood, I wish you the best, and if you don't want to be disappointed, then I allow you to quit reading. Otherwise, I'd like to share some facts with you. Of all the high school athletes throughout the nation, a fraction of a percentage point will ultimately play professionally. For baseball players, about 0.45% will make it to the professional level. Also, for those of us who know what "professional" in baseball means, that means a drastic majority will stew around the minor league circuit without ever realizing what "the big leagues" actually even means.

For football players, only 0.07% of those high schoolers will see professional action. Nonetheless, a bunch of us spent our entire youth believing we were some kind of Kobe/Peyton Manning/Albert Pujols hybrid until something happened that somehow prevented us from obtaining our dream. Personally, I blame the Global Financial Crisis for my .119 batting average in 2008 (damn robber barons).

Maybe I should have paid more attention in Social Studies...
Maybe I should have paid more attention in Social Studies...

Regardless of the reasons we give for why we didn't make it, the fact remains that we feel like we're owed something for all that time we spent. We'll try to insert little hints in resumes, job interviews, or even casual conversations in hopes that some employer will think, "Hey! I love sports! I should hire this guy!" The truth is that most of these employers would rather see a little on-task experience than your "Most Improved Player" plaque.

There are some studies out there, though, that present beneficial aspects of hiring ex-athletes while explaining that because of high school and college sports, athletes are equipped with special skills such as discipline, a will to work as hard as possible, and high self-esteem. Meanwhile, where are studies that show the success of devoted students? When an athlete shows up that shows tremendous classroom diligence, he/she becomes an enigma worthy of a documentary spot on Sportscenter. Most athletes major in "athletics," and the ones who excel in the classroom are more an exception, not the rule.

Let the past be the past...

Jim Carrey (before he fell into a big pool of bat-shit insanity) once made a really good point during a stand-up routine. He stated that you can always tell how sad someone's life was by how far they have to reach back for their moment of glory. He goes into the character of this bumbling old man slapping his un-dentured gums who excitedly claims, "Do you remember how fast I was... when I was a SPERM?! I still remember the day of the big race: there were millions of us in the field. But I beat them all! To fertilize that egg, mister!"

Jim Carrey, shown here when someone told him that he would go on to star in The Number 23
Jim Carrey, shown here when someone told him that he would go on to star in The Number 23

I call this phenomenon the "Water Tower Effect" (if you steal my idea, I'll find you). You see, whenever some town's team finds some success with one of its sports teams, the accomplishment is forever shown on that town's water tower. For us normal people, we often judge the town based on what information is broadcast on this tower. Since we're in 2012 now, if a "Burgsville High School 2011 State Runner-Up" message is displayed across the bumpkin beacon, then we think to ourselves, "Okay, it may be a small town, but they must have some pretty decent accomplishments. That was only last year." Far more frequently though, we run across messages--not only on water towers, but really anything nowadays--that read "State Champs '79!"

As much as we judge these little claims to fame, ex-athletes are guilty of the same boasts. Yeah, you may have been a pretty damn good cornerback... in '98. Has nothing happened in over a decade that you can feel proud of besides that time you intercepted that All-American and totally made him look like a chump?

Let it go guys. For the love of God, just let it go...
Let it go guys. For the love of God, just let it go...

Don't get me wrong, I truly believe athletics to be one of the greatest things to ever happen in the history of ever, but for the overwhelming majority of us, it served as more of a hobby than anything. While youth sports help instill some vital skills and life lessons for us, the same skills and life lessons can be learned through a plethora of other activities, too. Believing that we somehow have earned a "skip ahead 5 spaces" card only because of an athletic background is just asinine. We have to learn our lessons and be grateful for everything that has happened in the past, but instead of dwelling on how awesome we used to be, instead, use the athletic background to assist your present life.

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    • alipuckett profile image

      alipuckett 5 years ago

      Really interesting article. I have a relative who runs college track. He's there on scholarship, and he's really good at it. At the same time, I worry that he's not realistic about how rare a professional athetics career would be...

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      steven d 5 years ago

      Very true

    • denisemai profile image

      Denise Mai 5 years ago from Idaho

      So, uh, yeah. I'm a washed up athlete and so is my husband. With kids in sports, we commune with other washed up athletes on a regular basis. For the most part, we've all gotten past it. (Although, I felt the need to pick up the game of tennis as a socially acceptable way to channel my athletic aggression.) The hubby gets visits from a high school friend periodically. The guy still always breaks out the old, "Man. Remember the state basketball championship of 1987. We totally should have won that one. I was on fire with the 3's." I sit there, biting my tongue, because I want to shout out that 1987 was a loooong time ago so, get over it. But, I don't say anything. I smile and nod and think to myself that I hope this guy finds another highlight of his life that's better than his brief stint as a high school athlete. Great hub. Funny and informative. I'm voting you up!

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      Dad 5 years ago

      I'll have to admit that I was a little nervous as I read this one... Outside of the 1979 reference, you left me alone... haha!

    • profile image

      mikki 5 years ago

      Having never achieved "stardom" in any sport I played, I have found that athleticism did instill work ethic, competive nature, and a drive that I value in myself! I have great respect for those who did excel, including you!!

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      kelleyward 5 years ago

      Great article! Everything you wrote is sad but true. I think sports are great but should always been looked at as a season and not a lifetime career. Although some will go on to make a career out of being athlete most will not. Way to forge ahead! Voted up and useful! Take care, Kelley

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      Gavin 5 years ago

      I think it's important to add that many high school athlete receive full and part scholarship for college.

    • weestro profile image

      Pete Fanning 4 years ago from Virginia

      Great job Joseph, I'm still laughing. Very funny but very true. I love the water tower theory...that one's gold! Voted up, awesome, funny, and useful!

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