Athletes as matinee idols, activists, luxury brands and marketing gurus of the highest order. They are compelled to excel on borrowed time for every competition they live through, every game they win (or lose), their bodies are depleted a little bit more, and their wattage diminishes. Athletes are not rechargeable batteries; their hinges, pistons, and rods have expiration dates, breaking points that science and technology desperately wishes to address. At what cost, though? For whose glory? While bones can be set, muscles rested, and skin stitched up, cerebral integrity does not so easily recuperate.
Professional athletes are commodities, spokespersons for a capitalist cause and fodder for sliding scale spectacle: faster, higher, longer, louder, technical skill and artistic merit meld into supernovas of aerodynamics and body trauma. Their lustre lasts for a finite period of measurable time, but their legacy shines (and sometimes darkens) ever after.
Perhaps, the same could be said about construction workers, home improvement painters, combat soldiers, law enforcement personnel, firefighters, tree removal specialists, stunt performers, and thespians. Occupations that require one to exert physical strength, perform repetitive actions, test the limits of the human body as both a biological contraption and a mechanical apparatus (reusable and adaptable) define the notion of borrowed time. Except for the issue of immediate death and its probability of happening on the job, a professional athlete and a front-line soldier inhabit the same existential realm. Their objectives and environments may differ, but their goals are unequivocal: outscore the opponent and stay uninjured. An NFL player has the luxury, of course, of not having to contend with the psychological ramifications of being killed during a game, but injury is still possible.
In their brightest manifestation, at their most financially lucrative, athletes win hearts, sponsorship deals, and are regarded as perfect in every way — as if daring Mary Poppins to emerge and set the record straight that there is only one who is practically perfect in every particular. The truth is that stars die and by the time we see them, they are already gone. The one who jumps higher, the one who dunks a basket like no other, the one who runs faster than the wind itself, these feats of physicality — all on borrowed time.
Appreciate them while they are here; be awe-inspired by what they can do with their bodies. What performs like the nectar of the gods today may have evaporated by tomorrow until there is nothing left to give, to scrape away, to sell, to hate.
Behold them. Remember them. One day, they’ll all be gone.