Much has been made in the sports industry recently that the new generation of male athletes, the Millennials, just aren’t the men their predecessors were.
The first raspberry tossed in their direction came from Robert Sarver, owner of the NBA Phoenix Suns, who said, “I’m not sure it’s just the NBA. My whole view of the Millennial culture is that they have a tough time dealing with setbacks, and Markieff Morris is the perfect example. He had a setback with his brother in the offseason and he can’t seem to recover from it.” This was in response to a player the team has been having discipline issues with.
Next was former New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin, who questioned the resiliency of the modern football player: “We’ve lost a little bit of that in our game. I got a toothache, I’m out of the game. What? You got a what? A stiff neck? I got a stiff neck 24 hours a day every day of my life. What the hell has that got to do with playing?”
So are today’s athletes, and Millennial males in general, nothing more than a bunch of girly men? Being born at the back end of the baby boom generation myself I’m in no position to throw stones. After all, it was my generation who gave the world the touchy-feely Bill (I feel your pain) Clinton. It was also the boomers who in their infinite wisdom decided the traditional family needed a radical transformation, including a makeover of the roles men and women play in society. If today’s younger generation of men are soft, it is because that is what we required them to be. From their elders they have learned dodge ball is for bullies, winning is for losers, being masculine is predatory, and genders don’t exist.
As New Year’s Eve fell over Europe and women from Cologne, Germany to Finland were sexually assaulted during New Year’s Eve celebrations at the hands of predominately Muslim migrants, I couldn’t help but ask myself where were the men to protect them? It was a silly question, of course, as no doubt it had long been pounded into the heads of the Millennial males that the concept that a male had any role in protecting the safety of his wife, girlfriend, or sister was a hopelessly outdated and sexist ideal.
We only miss something after it’s gone for good, and as the testosterone slowly leaks out of the successive generations of Western males we are feeling its consequences. Americans have traditionally been optimists, but presently we are more pessimistic than ever about the country’s present condition and future potential. Part of the reason for this is that with all the myriad of problems we have, there is the growing sense we no longer have leaders who can provide and implement workable solutions. The alpha males, the can-do types of guys who can look a mountain of a challenge in the eye without blinking, have long been neutered by gender politics. So instead of confronting our demons head on we sit and languish, pretending good thoughts and empty rhetoric may save us.
So don’t blame the Millennial generation, as they didn’t create the problem. They are just picking up the baton, as is, from the people who raised them, and they are running with it as best they can. We may lament the loss of yesterday’s manly athletes, from Dick Butkis’s brutal strength to Pete Rose’s all out hustle and win at all costs mentality, but for me I retain a sliver of optimism. I have been working in professional sports since the mid-’80s and have seen up close and personal my fair share of athletes come and go. And in the modern male athlete, I see, at times, individuals who have never trained harder or smarter and done so under a microscope their fathers never had to perform under. You can’t tell me people like Mike Trout or LeBron James wouldn’t have been superstars no matter when they played. If they are at all representative of the younger generation, Millennials just may be OK despite all the nonsense we have foisted upon them.
As the saying goes, “the future is for those who show up.” And as most of the Millennials will be showing up a lot later in the future than I will, I can only hope they find something in themselves that we the older generation didn’t teach them. After all, they can’t screw up any more than my generation. Can they?
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