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Beckham's New Goal: Age Gracefully

David Beckham in a December match with his old team, Real Madrid, in Seville, Spain. i i

hide captionDavid Beckham in a December match with his old team, Real Madrid, in Seville, Spain.

Denis Doyle/Getty Images
David Beckham in a December match with his old team, Real Madrid, in Seville, Spain.

David Beckham in a December match with his old team, Real Madrid, in Seville, Spain.

Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Is David Beckham washed up at 31? Soccer fans at home in England think he might be. But a five-year, $250 million contract with the L.A. Galaxy of Major League Soccer will give him a chance to inspire U.S. fans.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

When it was announced this week that David Beckham has signed a $250 million contract to play with the Los Angeles Galaxy soccer team, almost every friend I know who follows English football said, rubbish, who cares, he's all washed up. English football fans can be the hardest people to please since the Roman Centurions. I'd like to point out - I'm sure that none of my friends will recognize themselves - that this response is often muttered by middle-aged men who have a hard time eating a burrito without getting winded.

Mr. Beckham is just 31, but he's played major league, joint-wrenching professional football for Manchester United, Real Madrid and the English national team for 15 years. He's about to try something even harder: grow older in the public eye, invite even casual fans to see him not only compete against younger players but the image of himself when he was a young sensation.

If you review most of the names in baseball steroid investigations, you might notice it's usually not younger players who get mentioned. Twenty-year-old athletes feel matchless and invulnerable. It's older players: Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa; they have a last chance in their 30's to put their names in the Hall of Fame or fall a few votes short of making history and millions.

The challenge isn't only for athletes. Graham Greene once said he was irritated by people who would say "The Power and the Glory" was such a great novel, why haven't you written anything quite that good since? He says he told them I'm a professional writer. It's my living. I can't afford to finish a good novel and set it aside just because you, in your infinite wisdom, think it isn't quite as great as one I wrote 30 years ago. I have bills to pay.

I think David Beckham might be good for American sports. He's a star, but also a noted team player. Take a look at his signature goal shots in World Cup games, which arch, twist and evade defenders. Mr. Beckham runs up to the stands and grabs his shirt to show the three lion emblem of England, to say it's England, it's the team. Contrast that with U.S. athletes who score touchdowns and taunt their opponents with a bump and grind dance in the end zone.

It might be edifying for American athletes to have to share the continent with a player more famous around the world than they are. David Beckham's picture hangs in huts in East Africa, coffee shops in Cairo, and favelas in Rio. Someone there who sees a picture of Mark McGwire or Barry Bonds might only ask, say, who's that chunky guy?

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Now football is a pleasant game, it's played in the sun. Play in the rain. And the team that gets me a title, Manchester United. Manchester. Manchester United.

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Simon SaysSimon Says NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small
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