Saturday, December 15, 2012

What Happens When You Are Too Good at What You Do?

Two years ago this month videos surfaced of a man-child that was wowing basketball fans in Arkansas. A seventh grader named Adrian Moore stood 6'3" tall and was slamming down dunks over his comparatively vertically challenged competitors. Videos of the youngsters antics are still available on the web, such as this Yahoo website. Here's one if you want to see how this young man surpassed his peers in stature and talent.

Naturally there was discussion abut whether it was fair for this young man with adult talents to compete against "normal" seventh-graders. A few weeks later the attention moved on to an eighth grader who stood 6'8" tall in the Philadelphia area, and he dwarfed is teammates also. His name is Horace Spencer, and he dominates on the court as well.

Horace Spencer, center, and teammates
Spencer has natural ability, and he is grateful for the on-court attention, but as an eighth grader he wanted nothing more than just to fit in off the court. That was difficult since he stood head and shoulders (literally) above everyone in his school.

Earlier this year, the country was introduced to the tallest youngster ever to play high school ball in the United States. His name is Mamadou Ndiaye, not to be confused with 7' tall Mamadou N'Diaye (b. 1975) from Senegal who played college ball for Auburn in the late 1990s, played professional basketball in the NBA for a few years, and eventually moved on to lesser paying basketball leagues. This Mamadou, also from Senegal, stands 7'5". Yes, that's right. He is five inches taller than the previous Mamadou and nine inches taller than Horace Spencer (and a year older than the latter also). You can see Mamadou II in action here.

All of these young men present a dilemma for teammates, coaches, opposition players, and fans. How do you deal with someone with such clearly superior God-given height and ability? If someone is clearly so much better, is it just a given that opponents have to suck it up and know they are destined to lose against the superior skill?

There are no easy answers. Indeed, a 12-year-old would-be peewee league football player named Elijah Earnhart was told in August of this year he could not play in the Dallas peewee league because, at 6'1" and 300 lbs, he was more than double the weight maximum of 135 lbs for seventh grade students. Naturally, no one wants other participating children to be hurt because of the superior size of a player, and this is more true in football than basketball since football is involves more contact than basketball. But there is no doubt that basketball can result in injuries to players when the disparity in size is great.

Recently there has been a lot of media coverage over a basketball player who presents a unique twist when it comes to players with superior height and strength. The story involves 220 lb Gabrielle Ludwig, who, at age 50, joined her California college team at mid-season. Gabrielle made history this month by being the only player to play on college teams as both a man and a woman. Gabrielle was Robert John Ludwig when she played in college in 1982. Now she is now playing on a California college team, and her teammates love her.

Two ESPN radio talking-heads were suspended this month for calling Ludwig an "it" during a broadcast. I suppose they thought it was funny. And some of their listener probably thought the same. But to laugh at someone who has been through such a mental, emotional and physical struggle is to show that you do not understand the big picture.Naturally, the controversy centers on whether this whole arrangement is "fair" to other teams since this man-turned-woman has a height and strength advantage on other players in the league. But she is also MY age and my husband's age, and I can assure you that neither of us is in any position to take on athletes half our age. Not many of us our age would be.

I do not know the "answer" when it comes to deciding whether this is "fair" or not, but I believe that Ms. Ludwig only wants to be "normal," meaning that she wants to be who her mind and her heart and her physical awareness tell her that she is, and to interact with others and to participate in activities that "normal" people do. This is one case where I wish her the best.


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