There’s a well-known saying that age is just a number. Unfortunately, this axiom doesn’t always apply when it comes to professional sports.
While it’s true that athletic careers are getting longer thanks to advances in medicine and science, it’s also true human bodies just don’t bounce back from aches, pains and stress fractures like they used to when athletes were young. Even the mighty Shaquille O’Neal had to concede in his June 2011 retirement announcement that, at the age of 39, "Father Time has caught up with Shaquille O'Neal."
Still, there are many athletes who have refused to go quietly, and who have stayed on the field after conventional wisdom dictated they should hang it up. George Blanda played 26 seasons of professional football, not retiring until he was more than 48 years old. Segregation stopped Satchel Paige from joining a Major League Baseball team until the league was integrated. He became a Cleveland Indians rookie at the age of 42 and kept playing until he was 59 years old. And when Gordie Howe stopped playing ice hockey in 1980, he was 52 years old, although he came back for a single game in 1997 at the age of 69, making him the only player to have played in six different decades.
Athletes who are active today have more avenues to extend their playing careers. Orthopedic medicine has come a long way, and advances in nutrition and fitness training make it possible for sports fans to see their favorite athletes participate in aggressive, high-contact sports in their 40s and beyond. If advances in these fields continue, maybe it’s not so crazy to think that future generations of sports fans might see football players, hockey players and boxers playing at competitive levels in their 60s and 70s.
Who are the 10 most notable athletes still active after the age of 40? Click ahead and find out.
By Daniel Bukszpan
Posted 12 July 2011
Kasey Keller is a Major League Soccer player who is currently a member of the Seattle Sounders. He has participated in the World Cup four times and was the first U.S. goalie to play for Germany’s professional league, as well as those of both England and Spain.
After playing for England's Fullham, he returned to America and joined the newly created Seattle team, tending goal for them in their very first game, which they won. The game took place on March 19, 2009, seven months shy of Keller’s 40th birthday. Today he is 41 years old and remains the only player to have appeared in the World Cup in both 1990 and 2006.
Mariano Rivera has played for the New York Yankees, and only the New York Yankees, for the entirety of his 17-year professional career. Born in Panama in November 1969, the relief pitcher known to fans as “Mo” has graced the All-Star team 12 times and taken part in no less than five World Series victories.
The reliable and consistent quality of his late-inning pitching has earned him a reputation as the “greatest closer in MLB history.” Over the years, Rivera has won the praises of his fellow teammates, such as Derek Jeter, who describes him as “the best…you have to put him at the top of the list.” Alex Rodriguez called him "the greatest weapon in modern baseball.”
The New Orleans Saints’ John Carney is a place-kicker who has been playing professional football since 1987. Starting his career with the Cincinnati Bengals, he has been on the roster of the San Diego Chargers, the Kansas City Chiefs and the New York Giants. In 2009, at 45 years old, he was released from the Saints, leaving his future as an active player very much in doubt.
The team re-signed him in 2010, making him the National Football League's oldest active player and the third-oldest player in league history after Morten Andersen and George Blanda. Five days after his signing Carney kicked three field goals that helped the team triumph over the Carolina Panthers. Sadly, one week after that he was released from the team again. Today, Carney is a free agent.
Tim Wakefield pitches for the Boston Red Sox, a team he joined in 1995 and has been playing for ever since, making him the team’s longest-serving member. Born in Florida on Aug. 2, 1966, he is also the oldest active player currently in major league baseball.
Wakefield is well known for his charity work. In 2010, he won the Roberto Clemente Award, the first member of the Boston Red Sox ever to do so. Wakefield won the award, in part, thanks to his participation in the Jimmy Fund, a cancer charity. Mike Andrews, its former chairman, was clear in his admiration for the pitcher.
"I would have to say in my years of baseball playing and then my 31 years with the Jimmy Fund, I have never seen anybody exceed his charitable generosity,” Andrews said. “He's one of those very, very unique people that come along every now and then.”
French cyclist Jeannie Longo has competed for her country since 1984. Now 52 years old, she’s still going strong, competing as recently as the 2008 Olympics against athletes who were in diapers when she was making a name for herself on the professional cycling circuit.
Longo stated that the 2008 appearance in the Olympics, her seventh time competing in them, would be her last. However, just because she’s slowing down doesn’t mean she’s stopping. She won the Elite Women Time Trial in the French Road Championships on June 23, 2011.
Arthur Rhodes is a relief pitcher for the Texas Rangers. Born in October 1969, the 41-year-old pitcher has played for the Baltimore Orioles, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Seattle Mariners. It was as a member of the Cleveland Indians that Rhodes found his calling as a setup pitcher, after previous teams had tried without success to use him as a closer.
Rhodes was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in 2006, and was dealt a blow when he had to have ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, also known as “Tommy John surgery.” Luckily, it worked for Rhodes, and he spent two years with the Cincinnati Reds before signing to the Texas Rangers in 2010.
Swimmer Dara Torres has won 12 Olympic medals, five in 2000 alone. She competed in the 2008 Summer Olympics, winning three silver medals at the age of 41, which made her the only woman over 40 to swim for a U.S. Olympic team. With the exception of 1996 and 2004, Torres has competed in all Summer Olympic Games since 1984.
In September 2010, she had reconstructive surgery on one knee, fueling speculation that she may be hanging up her cap and goggles for good. However, on Sept. 10, 2010, The Los Angeles Times reported that Torres was in fact training for the 2012 Olympics.
Omar Vizquel was born in Venezuela on April 24, 1967. He began his baseball career in the 1980s and is the only signed player from that era. Over the course of a career spanning an astonishing 23 seasons, he has played for the Seattle Mariners, the San Francisco Giants and the Texas Rangers. Today, he’s a member of the Chicago White Sox.
Vizquel has won 11 Golden Gloves, and his 2006 win at the age of 39 made him the oldest person ever to win one. In 2009, he made his 2,678th base hit, making him the all-time leader in base hits by a Venezuelan player. He currently occupies a spot in the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Hall of Fame.
Hiroshi Hoketsu is a Japanese equestrian who competed in the 2008 Summer Olympics. This in itself would be enough to qualify him for bragging rights, it’s all the more remarkable considering that the first time Hoketsu competed in the Olympics was at the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. That year he finished at an unspectacular 40th place in show jumping, but in 2008, at 67 years of age, he came in a much more impressive ninth place for the dressage team.
When Hoketsu competed in 2008, he beat the age record for a Japanese Olympian, previously held by 63-year-old Kikuko Inoue. However, the record for oldest Olympian overall remains unbroken. It was set by Swedish shooter Oscar Swahn, who was 72 years old when he competed in the 1920 Olympic games in Antwerp.
Baseball’s Jamie Moyer is a pitcher who has played for the Texas Rangers, the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox. He is currently a free agent without a team to call home, but he hasn’t called it quits yet.
At the time when Moyer's contract with his last team, the Philadelphia Phillies, ended in 2010, he was the oldest active major league player. At the age of 48 years today, all the evidence would seem to indicate Moyer has reached his autumn years and should consider new career options.
However, in an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Moyer made it clear that he was still very much weighing his options. “It potentially could be (my last season). But so could have last year," he said. "So could have two years ago, so could have five years ago."