The last couple of weeks has brought us some varying news about three of the most compelling figures from the last twenty years in sports. It all demonstrates that even famous and accomplished athletes are not immune from age, injury or the realities of life.
Serena Williams is Expecting: In what I consider exciting news, twenty-three time singles Grand Slam tournament winner and thirty-five year old Serena Williams announced last week that she is pregnant and will miss the rest of the 2017 tennis season. I don't know her personally, but through the years I have come to have enormous respect for her in the way she graciously conducts herself off the court, as well as the way she performs on it. Her talent is immense, and along with Tiger Woods, I consider them the two greatest individual sport athletes this country has produced. Serena is arguably the greatest female athlete in history. I'm thrilled that she will be a parent, and am curious what her path will be over the next couple of years. Will she choose to return to competitive tennis, looking to eclipse Margaret Court's 24 Grand Slam singles titles? Or will her current open-era record be good enough to send her off into a period of parenthood and post-playing activities? Either way, up to this point, she's certainly earned the option to do whatever she pleases without criticism from any quarters. Many athletes of her gender have chosen to leave their sports behind, but several did not. Kerrie Walsh won an Olympic gold medal in beach volleyball, Evonne Goolagong won a tennis U.S. Open and Nancy Lopez continued to compete in golf following the birth of their children. Will she be as driven, be able to compete at the same high level and possibly get those two Grand Slams? I tend to believe that age, not her gender or childbearing, will be the biggest obstacle. But if she can take a year or so off and play at Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows in 2018, I won't be betting against her chances for victory.
Is Tiger Done? After a fourth surgery on his back, fourteen time major tournament winner Tiger Woods is again sidelined for an extensive period of time. Most experts agree that it will take about six months of recovery and rehabilitation for Woods to return to playing golf, competitive or otherwise. The big questions remain: Will he be able to compete and will he want to compete, even if he's able? Who really knows? At the age of 41, it's highly unlikely that we will see Woods add to his major victory total, making Nicklaus' record of eighteen safe for the foreseeable future. Of current players, only Rory McIlroy is probably in a position to challenge the record. Sorry Jordan Spieth fans, but I just don't see it happening. I haven't seen the singularity of focus on the golf course from any of the current top golfers that both Nicklaus and Woods displayed in their prime. It's unfortunate that we haven't seen much of Tiger since a great 2013 season. It's my suspicion that outside of assistant and eventual head captains' roles at Ryder and President Cups, we've likely seen the last of him in an active role at a competitive golf event. But if it is the end, it's the end of one of the greatest runs in sports history. Not only did Tiger Woods win in ridiculous and exciting fashion, he transformed the game in the process. Who else but Tiger Woods could have forced Augusta National to significantly alter their beloved golf course? No one, that's who.
Fan Fave, Link to the Past: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. never won a Winston/Sprint/Whatever the Cup is called now title in his over twenty years of NASCAR racing. But he carried the name of one of the greats of the sport. Since Sr.'s death at Daytona over sixteen years ago, Jimmy Johnson has dominated on the track, but Dale Jr. has dominated in the stands and on the various networks that have carried the sports' races. Earlier this week, Jr. announced that this season would be his last. He sat out most of last year with effects from concussions and came back this season looking to be competitive again for Hendrick Motorsports. However, a series of DNF's, disappointing finishes and concern for his long-term health prompted his decision to leave the driving to younger guys with a passion for racing. I can't help but speculate that his father's death behind the wheel at Daytona in 2001 and Junior's recent marriage had to play a part in his choice. After all, he's a car owner, so he won't be leaving the sport he loves and grew up on. The bigger question is, in a crowded sports landscape, can NASCAR withstand the retirement of yet another popular driver?
Hear my recent interview with legendary sports agent Leigh Steinberg,
where we discussed his agency, concussions, franchise relocation and
philanthropy at http://thechtonsports.com/cold-hard-truth-sports-radio-show-1242017/
listen to our conversation with author and sports journalist Mike
Carey, as we discussed his latest book "Bad News" about Marvin Barnes
and reminisced about Mike's coverage of the Boston Celtics during their
glory years with Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Danny Ainge and Robert
Don't forget to check out my new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" at Amazon.com and listen to me Friday's at 8:40 am EDT/ 7:40 am CDT on Lou in the Morning, streaming live on www.WPFLradio.com, 105.1 FM. Also check out www.thechtonsports.com for our podcasts and live broadcast on Tuesday's at 8:30 pm EST. I can also be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.