It is said that age is just a number. And yet how often is it suggested that a person’s ability to do a job be based on his or her age?
It has become a habit, all too much so in the Caribbean, that people are assumed incapable of performing a particular task just because they have reached a certain age.
West Indies’ opening batsman Chris Gayle today put paid to that straw – knocked it clean out of the park – as he turned back the clock during a brutal and impressive century against England at Kensington Oval.
Gayle, who turns 40 this year, did not play in the recently concluded Test series which the West Indies won 2-1, but was recalled for the One Day International series which will feature five matches.
He is also expected to play in the 2019 World Cup.
Much had been said about Gayle’s recall to the West Indies team, amid doubts about his ability to perform at the highest level for no other reason that he is nearing 40 – the assumed mandatory retirement age in world cricket.
Indeed, the tall, strapping Jamaican has been going through a lean run of form in various Twenty20 leagues around the world.
But, the selectors obviously believed that Gayle still had something to offer.
He duly responded by smashing a masterful 135 from only 129 balls, inclusive of 12 towering sixes and three boundaries, despite a worryingly slow start of his innings.
Cricket West Indies’ treatment of Gayle is a far cry from that meted out to Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
After a remarkable career for the likeable middle-order batsman nicknamed ‘Tiger’, he was unceremoniously dumped by selectors, leading to his eventual retirement at the age of 41.
It was hugely disappointing to see that after a 21-year career, in which he played 164 Test matches and became only the second West Indian to score over 10 000 Test runs – as well as 268 ODIs – that he was never even given a deserved farewell.
The careers of sportsmen and sportswomen are limited, as the body does begin to decline in athletic performance and endurance, but age in itself should not be the sole reason for any player to be discarded.
There are several examples where athletes defied the odds to achieve the unexpected, even when they were considered past their best.
At the age of 45, George Foreman knocked out Michael Moorer to reclaim the world heavyweight boxing title.
When Martina Navratilova was 38 years old, she was still making tennis heads turn in Grand Slam finals.
In 1986, Jack Niklaus shocked the world by winning golf’s Masters.
And even as recent as this month, 41-year-old quarterback Tom Brady helped the New England Patriots win their ninth Super Bowl and his sixth – the most by any player in NFL history.
Yet beyond sports, ageism abounds.
Most employers assume that because you are not in your 30s or 40s, you are simply too old to get the job done.
In the US, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) forbids workplace age discrimination against people who are age 40 or older.
The irony is that while older workers are usually discriminated against, so many wielders of power find an age glass ceiling above their heads.
Prime Ministers, presidents, chief executive officers, general managers and chairmen, just to name a few, are seldom young people in their 30s or 40s.
So middle-aged persons still have much to contribute to society.
Once a person has shown that he or she has the ability and the capacity to perform a role, they should be given an opportunity.
Beyond the boundary, then, over which Christopher Henry Gayle sent balls sailing today, we must fly past the limits of youth culture, particularly when medicine, health care and nutrition are helping us to live longer and better lives – a fact the social security system has long recognized by way of extending the pensionable age to 67.
It is perhaps time that we have a mature conversation about ageism and the knee-jerk dismissal of the ability of others based on a mere number.