Above photo courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eli_Manning_New_York_Giants_Ole_Miss_Rebels.png
Recently, I attended the Michigan Men’s basketball team’s game against Villanova at the Barclays Center. While this was a very close game, I was heartbroken to see Irvin’s game winning shot blocked and to see my phone explode with text messages from all of my friends who attend Villanova (This is what happens when you live 30 minutes away from the school you are playing). But the play after was more appalling – to see the in-bounds pass thrown out of bounds instead of to someone was a shocking lack of communication and it ultimately cost Michigan the game, and championship.
On the other hand, I also attended the Philadelphia Eagles play the New York Giants at Lincoln Financial Field on October 12th to witness the Giants get obliterated 27-0. The Giants were run out of the building, as was I by all of the heckling Eagles fans. It was a shame to watch a team who had been playing well at this point in the season (things have since changed) get slaughtered by a team whom I felt was overrated at the time (I still do, but less so).
Yet what do these two events have in common? Almost nothing. Actually, they were opposites, which is why I think it is important to analyze the outcomes of each game and to figure out why they happened as they did. Villanova’s Men’s basketball team starts three seniors (one redshirted), and two juniors (one redshirted), whereas John Beilein’s Michigan Wolverines start one junior, two sophomores, and two freshmen (one redshirted). On top of that, the seventh man in the rotation is a freshman as well. On the other side, the Eagles have had a consistently young roster under Chip Kelly, while the Giants are continually sputtering, trying to hold onto players from their incredible run in the 2011 playoffs.
I think Professor Mika LaVeque-Manty would be intrigued by these two situations, as they present opposing viewpoints as to what the disability is in this scenario. Is the disability age, or is the disability experience? In his book The Playing Fields of Eton, Professor Manty wrote a chapter entitled, “Being a Woman and Other Disabilities.” The premise of this chapter is that women are inherently disadvantaged in athletics, but also in life as a whole. But on top of that, there are many different things that can are constituted as disabilities, and in fact the creation of a category creates a disability. For example, weight classes in wrestling imply that lack of weight is a disability because a lightweight could not handle him/herself against a more formidable opponent.
In the same light, I am going to argue that age can be both an advantage and a disability, something that Professor Manty does not completely address in his chapter. I think that is partially because age is a much more questionable attribute and it would probably weaken his argument, but it is important to see the effect age has on the quality of someone’s participation.
In the case of Michigan basketball, there are several different things that could affect their performance on the court. With such a young core, there are multiple issues stemming from the maturity of the players, the first of which being their willingness to learn and comply with the system. Frequently, young superstar players (like the individuals on our team, ie: the Sixers) want to be stars and have the chance to do it all themselves instead of learning how to be a part of the system and play their own role. Although Coach Beilein told the members of Maize Rage that the younger kids are being very involved, there were many times during the game against Villanova in which it became clear some of the younger players were trying to win the game themselves instead of doing what was asked of them.
Along with that, the Villanova team was much more impressive in their ability to play as a cohesive unit instead of five players. Watching this game, I thought of the saying my junior year APUSH teacher had at the bottom of his emails: “I would rather have the best five than the five best.” Villanova’s ability to play as a team is what won them the game against Michigan, and that is why I think in this case age is an advantage. The Villanova team had been playing and practicing with each other for several years (seeing as they are all upperclassmen), while the young Michigan squad began playing together over the summer. Their ability to grow as a unit came from the amount of time they spent together, which is why they found more success than a team with less experience.
On the other hand, the ‘cohesive unit’ of the 2014 New York Giants is one of the most pitiful football teams I have ever seen in my life. Their roster is full of returning players who have an incredible amount of experience and football IQ, but that has clearly not helped them in the same way it helped Villanova. When playing the Eagles, the Giants were pummeled and outrun by a much younger, fitter Eagles team. On top of that, this season is only their second year running Chip Kelly’s relatively revolutionary (at least on NFL standards) high-flying spread offense. Watching this game, it seemed that age was a disability. The Giants were unable to keep up with their fast opponents and were very exhausted by the end of the game.
Overall, I think that age is something that can be seen as a disability when team members are immature and unable to sacrifice what they want for the greater unit of the team. But when players are willing to sacrifice their own success for the greater good, that is when age becomes a disability because the younger, more physically fit players are going to outperform the veterans.