By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Kids these days.
We all heard those words directed at us and, more broadly, our generation. Barring some unfortunate circumstance, we will live long enough to speak them - with the same condescending, what will come of this world tone in which they were once received - to the next generation of youngsters who are threatening the very fabric of American life.
In that moment, Armageddon will be at our doorstep…buoyed by this (latest) mass of inconsiderate, lazy, self-absorbed, entitled adolescents who are allergic to hard work and wouldn’t dare walk to school through a snowstorm. So much for humanity. Our fabulous advancement as a species has finally produced a generation whose lack of determination will cause our undoing. Fossils we shall be for the next advanced species on Earth to discover.
Yet somehow, by some miracle of the cosmos, we find a way. The next generation matures just in time to perpetuate the great arc of human history. Or maybe the adult world’s advertised peril has always been rooted in folly, not fact, a manifestation of discomfort with an ever-evolving, increasingly unfamiliar world.
Regardless, the rising generation has always received exponentially more criticism than is deserved. Millennials, the “everybody gets a trophy” generation, have been a popular target for years. Generation Z is now feeling the sweat.
The reality: Society needs its youth. Want to feel young? Sleep plenty. Eat right. Exercise. Forgo the cigarettes and go light on the booze. Read this column on the regular. And surround yourself with young people. They are spectacular – bright, ambitious, optimistic, caring and full of energy. Other than good music, there may be no better tonic for the life blues than the company of kids.
Sports have always been a dependable supply line of youthful fountains of hope and possibility. The Olympics have introduced us to a beaming Mary Lou Retton, Kerri Strug, Gabby Douglass, Shaun White and that group of college kids on the 1980 U.S. Hockey Team that beat the Soviets and won an improbable gold medal. In the span of 15 years, Ken Griffey Jr., Serena and Venus Williams and LeBron James – all teenagers – took over MLB, tennis and the NBA, respectively. Each handled the spotlight with a grace and maturity beyond their years. And as for that all-important position of quarterback, two more teenagers – Tua Tagovailoa and Trevor Lawrence - have won the last two national championships and a 23-year-old Patrick Mahomes is the reigning NFL MVP.
In the tennis world, youth is being served again.
Coco Gaugh, a 15-year-old loaded with infectious charisma, burst upon the scene earlier this summer at Wimbledon. Under the bright lights of the U.S. Open, Gaugh won her first two matches in thrilling, three-set fashion before falling to defending champion Naomi Osaka, who is all of 21, in front of a packed crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium last Saturday night.
After the match, Osaka showed extraordinary class in consoling an emotional Gaugh, insisting that they do a joint, post-match interview and then, while battling tears of her own, applauding Gaugh’s accomplishment and her family’s commitment to her development. It was sportsmanship of the highest order.
What I will also remember from Gaugh’s U.S. Open run is a comment she made after her Round 2 victory. When asked about playing in the U.S. Open in front of such a supportive crowd, Gaugh offered this humble, genuine reply, “I am super honored to be American and playing in New York City.”
Are we paying attention? Osaka challenged us not to miss an opportunity to comfort a valiant competitor or just another human being in need. Gaugh reminded us of the honor it is to be an American citizen. Juxtaposing the two, it is impossible to miss the connection with on-going atrocities at our nation’s southern border. But more broadly, these were profound moments for a divisive time - and they were delivered by a 21 and 15-year-old, respectively. So much for wisdom being a function of age. If these two young ladies are at all representative of generation next, we’re going to be just fine…maybe far better than we currently are.
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