Sportswriters love the old-timers.
Roger Clemens. Brett Favre. Post-2002/pre-2005 Bonds.
Any dude over 35 still performing at a high level will get mad love from the media in large part because it's dudes over 35 -- living somewhat vicariously through the age-defying wonder -- who are deciding what's newsworthy. And for the most part it is men over 35 who gobble this stuff up, because they're either losing their hair or their knees crack and they need a shred of hope to hold on to.
Trust me, I know of what I speak. That last paragraph? Semi-autobiographical.
But then someone recently said six words to me that left me both inspired and ashamed: "Talk to me when you're 50."
Last summer Martina Navratilova, about a month shy of the big 5-0, won her 59th Grand Slam title. For those of you keeping score, 50 is the minimal age requirement for AARP, which this week announced a series of new fitness initiatives featuring a true ageless wonder. She will be offering her tips for staying healthy on the group's Web site in addition to seminars.
Remember when AARP used to be a punch line for "you know when you're getting old... " jokes? Well, with 30 being the new 20 and 40 the new 30 -- and now 50 gets you a Grand Slam title -- it appears "growing old" has nothing to do with age anymore.
"Brett had a rough couple of years and people were saying he should retire ... now look at him. He's having his best year yet," Navratilova says. "You have to listen to your own body and block out all of the doubters who only see age.
"I had a rough couple of years and people were saying I lost a step and should retire back in the '80s. If I had listened to them I would not have accomplished all that I have."
Which includes all-time records of 167 singles titles and 177 doubles titles. She retired in 1994, un-retired in 2000 and last year re-retired with three more Grand Slam titles after age 45. If this year's Sports Illustrated's Man of the Year took a dip into the fountain of youth, then Navratilova must be hooked up to an IV.
"I have a lot of respect of for what Brett Favre is doing because he's in great shape, he's playing every game and he's taking hits," she says. "But I kind of laugh when people talk about Roger Clemens, because he has a potbelly and only plays once every five days. I know a lot of care goes into resting the shoulder and everything, but you can't play world-class tennis or be a quarterback with 20 percent body fat at any age. But you can pitch, so that's kind of funny to me."
When I learned Navratilova was being brought on by AARP to be its health and fitness spokesperson, I thought the leaders were being cruel to the group's 39 million members. She may have received her card last year but she also hoisted up a major trophy. It's like having Lance Armstrong walk in to be your spin instructor at the Y.
But it appears the woman is human after all. She has a weakness for chocolates, admitted getting a little pudgy shortly after hanging up her racket last year and has just entered the wonderful world of menopause. "I remember trying to go for a run after I retired and my calves were on fire after five minutes," she says. "I remember thinking, 'Man, it goes away quickly.' "But I've been slowly building it back up and now I can run an hour with no problem. That's what fitness is all about, doing what you can and being consistent with it."
Navratilova is AARP's first health and fitness ambassador but she won't be the group's last, according to Emilio Pardo, who's in charge of the organization's branding. He says he's eyeing other top professional athletes and also will approach them ... you know, when they're old enough to eat at the grown-up table.
"Her philosophy of keeping it simple is something everyone can relate to," he says. "Yes, she's an incredible athlete, but she can still connect with all kinds of life stages. And she can offer advice and tips on how to stay active past 50."
At 51, she counts hockey and snowboarding among her post I'm-twice-your- age-and-I'm-still-kicking-your-butt-at-a-Grand-Slam-tournament tennis days.
"I'm going skiing in February, so I've been focusing in on exercises to get my legs strong," she says. "I don't want to go out there with fresh powder and not be able to go all day because I'm tired.
"Most people think getting in shape is something that you do at the gym, but it's actually more than that. You watch what you eat, you get plenty of sleep, drink water, it's all of that. You don't have to be a world -class athlete to do those things."
And as for the Clemens/Favre/Testaverde/Franco/insert-your-favorite-aging-athlete here lovefest?
"Talk to me when you're 50."
LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to Page 2. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.