They ain’t heavy... • Nick Nunn
Prompted by the recent announcement that brothers B.J. and Justin Upton will be playing side-by-side in the Braves’ outfield this season, I’ve been contemplating the complications and contributions that siblings in sport often cause.
If internal and external tensions can often be enough to create a rift between average siblings, then why should we expect anything different from brothers or sisters (or both), who find themselves in a larger arena, competing with or against each other?
There are many examples of siblings, who have found themselves in competitive circumstances with widely varying results.
Consider the Uptons – the impetus for this (albeit broken) train of thought – who played with each other as children in Virginia; each cites the other as the reason he has attained the level of professional skill that he was able to develop.
Their sibling status appears to be one of the reasons why they are successful, and some predict that their playing on the same field day in and day out will provide a renewed catalyst for their athletic drives, beginning an era of development in each brother’s individual career.
Jim and John Harbaugh, who probably played electric football against each other as children, got to do the real thing at the Super Bowl last Saturday and proved an almost equal match by the end of gameplay.
There are times, however, when siblings develop their talents less evenly, which is a problem that can cause dysfunction in a family.
Everyone remembers Hank Aaron’s career home run total (755), but relatively few people remember that he and his brother, Tommie, amassed the most career home runs of any brother duo in the history of baseball: 768 home runs.
In case you can’t do that math in your head, Tommie Aaron hit 13 of the 768.
Although I’m sure Tommie never faulted his brother for his successes, I can’t imagine there were many enjoyable Thanksgiving dinners while Hank was in the prime of his career.
But we don’t have to look beyond county lines to find our share of athletes who follow in familial footprints, competing in sisterly shadows or under brotherly burdens.
In just about every sport, we can find examples: Andrew and Sam Couch in football, Austin and Bailey Ross in wrestling and football, Elizabeth and Sara Couch in softball and basketball, Tookie and Alexis Brown in basketball, etc.
Many times, these pairs compete right beside each other in front of the rest of their families and the Morgan County sport fans, and – like it or not – they don’t always come out as equals.
It would be unfair to claim otherwise; the differing levels of determination and natural talent between certain individuals are undeniable, so why should that be any different between those who are genetically similar?
My interest lies in the “why.”
Why is it the rule rather than the exception that a younger brother or sister finds themselves competing in the same sport as their older sibling?
Does it come from pressure within the family, like some displaced Joe Jackson, pushing his children on in a discipline they might care little to nothing about?
Or is it a youngling’s desire to prove themselves the equal of their forerunners?
Is a child, whose family already invests itself in sporting activities, more inclined to participate in sports for an extended period of time, regardless of talent or skill? And, if so, why?
These are interesting sociological problems, whose answer I, for one, would like to know.
Printed in the February 7, 2013 edition